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Furniture company prosecuted over worker’s injury

27 January 2015

A Rutland company which manufactures children’s bedroom furniture has been fined after a machine operator suffered serious hand injuries in a makeshift vacuum cleaner.

Leicester Magistrates’ Court heard Belvoir Associates had modified a portable dust extraction system using pipes and connections to secure a long flexible hose to the extractor’s inlet, but the system regularly became blocked with wooden off-cuts.

On 4 April 2013, the portable dust extraction system had been used to clean down both wood processing machinery and the floor and eventually it became blocked.

Three operatives attempted to unblock it using two tried and tested methods, including the removal of an end cap. When these failed one of them put his left hand into the opening, where the flexible and solid pipes joined, to try clear the blockage, but his hand was drawn directly into the blades of the machine.

He suffered multiple finger fractures and dislocations and required a number of operations. He has undergone physiotherapy but has lost 40% of the use of his hand and is not expected to regain full use of his fingers.

The 46 year old employee, from Stamford, was off work for 10 months but has returned to Belvoir Associates albeit in a different role as he no longer has the manual dexterity to undertake physical work.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the company had failed to assess what risks the machine posed to those using it. In addition, no training or information had been provided to employees and the injured employee was unaware of the location of any rotating fan blades. Belvoir Associates, of Pillings Road, Oakham, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and on 23 January was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £4449 in costs.

After the hearing, HSE inspector David Lefever said: "This incident was foreseeable and preventable. As soon as the unit was converted, several significant risks resulted. It was, in effect, a Heath Robinson arrangement of domestic pipe fittings, flexible hoses and duct tape, none of which constituted the provision of fixed guards.

"The use of domestic pipe fittings created an obvious place for blockages to occur and using the machine to vacuum not only wood dust but also solid wood waste and off-cuts, as well as general debris from the floor, increased the risk of blockage considerably.

"Belvoir Associates failed to see any of the potential dangers arising from the new use of the unit because it neglected to properly judge the risks. It also failed to act once it became aware of the blockages in the machinery and instead left individual operators to unblock the unit resulting in the development of unsafe methods.”