A timber company has been fined after a worker amputated his thumb when it came into contact with a moving saw blade. How could this have happened and what should you do to protect workers from dangerous moving parts?

What happened

The worker was setting up the floor-mounted band saw for a production run when his hand was drawn towards the blade with the power feed on. The thumb on his right hand was severed when it made contact with an unguarded blade.

The investigation

The HSE’s investigation found that Watford Timber Company Ltd (W) had failed to take the machine out of use when the guard stopped working. They did not have adequate arrangements in place to check and monitor their machines to ensure that guards and other protective devices remained in good working order.

In court

W pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 11 Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) and Regulation 5 Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. They were fined £13,400 and ordered to pay costs of £5,358.05.

Note. These are the uninsurable costs and must be paid from the company’s profits. There will most likely be a personal injury claim from the employee to compensate for the loss of his thumb. Even though covered by insurance there will still be costs, e.g., legal fees, investigation time, increased insurance premiums in subsequent years etc.

What should have happened?

The incident could have been easily avoided had W taken the machine out of use and repaired the guard as soon as it became inoperable. Employers must ensure that machinery guarding is kept in good working order. Using tight work schedules, or ignorance, is not an excuse to allow unsafe machinery to be operated.

Common problems

Although machine guarding is regulated under PUWER, there is limited working knowledge of this in the workplace. There is a common misconception that guarding is there to “make life awkward”. It can be easily overridden to speed up work. As seen in W’s case guarding can often fail leading to an increased risk if not fixed as soon as possible.

Avoid making the same mistakes

There are some simple controls that can be quickly applied in your workplace. The first is to make sure that any worker who operates machinery has a working knowledge of PUWER. This includes maintenance, inspection, knowledge of dangerous parts of equipment and suitable information and training on what the equipment is and how it is to be used.

Further controls

The company failed to manage the issue of broken guarding which led to a life-changing injury. Make sure staff are fully trained in the operation of the equipment and what to do in the event of damage or failures. Check your guarding regularly.

Implement a process to guide workers through what to do if there is damaged guarding. Implement a guard check sheet at the beginning of each shift. This will note any broken or overridden guards and include a process to remove or repair immediately.

Tip. Use a safe system of work as a starting point for training staff in a breakdown/repair procedure.

At Safety Aide, we provide our clients with safe working procedures for all their equipment and inhouse safety check sheets.