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Are you isolated at work? If yes, good

Especially if you are working in an industry which uses hazardous machinery such as engineering and manufacturing companies.  Let me explain. 

In the last few weeks the global food producer Heinz has been prosecuted and hit with a £50,000 fine and ordered to pay costs of £9,661 after pleading guilty to breaching regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

This followed the amputation of a sub-contractors hand in a live, unguarded potato peeling machine whilst the engineer, who was working on it, tried to retrieve a dropped bolt during planned maintenance work in June 2013.  Whilst the peeling machine itself was electrically isolated, he put his hand into the slurry pump below which began to operate and severed his right hand.  The incident was investigated by HSE, which prosecuted Heinz Manufacturing UK Ltd at Norwich Crown Court on 16 May for a safety breach.

The court was told that self-employed engineer was servicing a ‘brush and belt’ peeler, a large machine used to remove skins from potatoes, of which he had previous experience. The machine was isolated and locked off by both Heinz and the injured person before he began work.

The HSE’s investigation revealed that although the slurry pump appeared to be an integral part of the peeler, it was in fact a separate machine with its own power supply and isolation point. The injured person was unaware of this and believed he had isolated the pump along with the peeler at the main distribution box.

Crucially, a protective grate bolted on top of the pump to prevent access, was absent, enabling the injured person to reach into dangerous parts of the machine including the screw auger. The HSE said the guard had possibly been absent for some time.

This awful case highlights a number of points which all combined to allow the accident to happen:

  • The missing protective grate which allowed the injured person to access screw auger;
  • Using contracted labour / maintenance staff who are unfamiliar with the equipment; and
  • Unclear arrangements to isolate and lock off different parts of the equipment.

So in order to protect your employees, contractors and also yourself from being prosecuted make sure the following arrangements are in place.

  • Carry out routine documented machine checks to ensure protective guards and other devices are in place and operational;
  • If safety devices are missing or defective, shut down, isolate and lock off the machine to prevent use until repaired;
  • Select competent and experienced contractors to work on your site and ensure they demonstrate their competency and experience to you before they are allowed to come to site;
  • Ensure the isolation points for all equipment are identified and communicated to all relevant staff;
  • Provide suitable lock off equipment to prevent the machine being used during maintenance, e.g. padlocks, etc. and control who holds the keys!
  • Carry out a full risk assessment for maintenance work on machines and use a permit to work system to check that safety controls are in place and being observed by staff and contractors.

ProAktive employ a team of highly experienced Chartered Health and Safety Practitioners with experience of working in manufacturing and engineering. If you want to avoid the devastating effects of a workplace accident for your staff, and your bottom line it’s far cheaper to deal with problems before an accident occurs.  Give ProAktive a call on 01302 341344 for an informal chat. 

By Simon Walsh CMIOSH


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