Having 'safe working procedures' is insufficient defence

28 August 2013

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The HSE has announced the results of a prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. A tyre manufacturer was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £4330 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty.

In January 2012, while the plant was being restarted after the Christmas break, a tyre testing machine was found to have jammed - a fault that had occurred previously after shutdowns. A maintenance employee switched the machine to manual mode and removed one of the guards to repair the fault. He then returned the machine to automatic mode and it processed two tyres successfully before jamming again. Without thinking, he reached back into the machine which then began operating. His arm was trapped, and broken in three places, resulting in him being off work for four months; he still has difficulty moving his shoulder.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) carried out an investigation and found that the safety procedures for carrying out maintenance work on the machine were poor. In particular, although the same fault had occurred previously, the tyre manufacturer had failed to carry out a specific risk assessment for this maintenance work. There was also limited supervision of the maintenance employees, general knowledge of the company's written health and safety procedures was poor, and there was no system in place to check that the company's Safe Working Procedures guidelines were being followed in practice.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Michael Griffiths said: "A moment's lapse in concentration left an employee with major injuries to his left arm because [the] management of the risks from maintenance work wasn't good enough.

"The fault with the machine had occurred before, following previous Christmas breaks, but the company didn't have a specific risk assessment in place to make sure it could be fixed safely.

"Although [the company] did have written Safe Working Procedures, they were not effective because the employees were either unaware of them or weren't following them, and no effort was made to check that the procedures were being followed.

"This incident could have been avoided if [the company] had done more to make sure that risks were being properly assessed and its employees were following safe working practices."

Machine builders should take notice of this prosecution and, wherever practicable, design-out hazards or provide safeguards so that the need to rely on 'safe working procedures' is kept to a minimum.

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