Removal of Guard on conveyor belt leads to serious injury

The 41-year-old was trying to identify a fault on a hot tin slat conveyor belt at Warburtons’ premises on the Newburn Industrial Estate in Newcastle when the incident happened in October 2013.

Newcastle Magistrates’ Court was told last week (27 November) that the worker was lying on the floor holding a torch. When the torch clipped the conveyor, it fell out of the operator’s hand. As he reached out to pick it up, the conveyor drew his hand into a roller.

He suffered an open fracture to his right hand and tissue damage that required surgery.

The HSE’s investigation found access was possible because only a crumb tray, which was easily removed by quick release catches, was being used as a guard.

Warburtons had also failed to isolate the machine from all power sources during the maintenance work.

Magistrates heard this was not the first time the machine had been operated without being isolated and guard removal for maintenance was common at the bakery.

HSE inspectors also discovered that workers had carried out fault tracking on other conveyors with machines running, and maintenance staff routinely removed fixed guards to access tracking points.

Warburtons was fined £5000 and ordered to pay £1162 costs after it pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

After the incident, the company fitted new guards to the machine, which could only be taken off using a special tool. It also produced safe systems of work for regular maintenance tasks and trained staff.

Joanne du Plessis, partner at Shires Law advises: “Sadly guard removal is something I see a lot of. Sometimes workers remove the guards to make a work process easier and this goes unchecked by management who allow the unsafe work system to continue. I have very recently settled a case involving substantial compensation where a young man had his leg was pulled into an unguarded machine.  Sadly he has been left with permanent injuries which will affect his employment for the rest of his life.  These injuries are so easily avoided.”

Please do call Joanne du Plessis if you have suffered an injury at work as a result of an unguarded piece of machinery. We would be glad to talk to you about your options.