Forklift accident

Lack of risk assessment causes lost fingertips

Two companies have been fined a total of £30,000 after a worker who had not been trained to understand risk assessments needlessly lost his fingertips in a machinery accident.

A Telford company was fined £15,000 with costs of £2,496, after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the HSWA 1974. A Kent company was also fined £15,000 with costs of £3,042 having pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the same Act.

City of London Magistrates' Court heard how the accident took place in July 2004, at a paper recycling plant in Greenwich, south London. They had contracted the Telford company to repair a large waste reclycling machine known as a 'shredder' or 'hogger' which had become damaged when the fork of a forklift truck was inadvertantly loaded into it along with a consignment of paper. The Telford company sent the injured party along with another enginner to perform the repair work. Investigating HSE inspector Loraine Charles told SM that while both engineers had filled in the company's risk assessment form before starting the job it transpired that they had only been instructed on how to complete the form rather than on how to actually assess the risks.

"When things didn't go according to plan, they came up with ad-hoc solutions," she said. "These were extremely dangerous."

The court heard that the Kent company, meanwhile, allowed contractors to come and work at its site even though they did not have the competence to do the job. They had issued a permit to work to the visiting engineers, but the firm failed to ensure that those issuing permits had been properly trained in how to operate the system. For instance the permit issuer had not looked at their risk assessment of the job and was not competent to evaluate it for flaws.

Thus, when the panel that allowed access to the damaged parts of the machine did not open easily, the two men attempted to force it open using a hydraulic jack. This jack could exert a force equivalent to lift 25 tonnes while the panel weighed an estimated 100kg. it opened suddenly and then shut again immediately trapping the injurde man's right ring and little fingers. He lost the tips of both.

In mitigation, the companies both said that they take health and safety very seriously, and that they have made substansive changes to their systems of work and their training methods