115,000 Fine After Hand Amputated By Machine

On 10 February 2021 59-year-old engineer Christopher Wright was working for Playford Packaging at its factory on Wrexham Industrial Estate in Wrexham when he was asked to look at a large case-making machine that had run into a problem. The operator of this fast-flowing machine, which can make 200 cardboard boxes a minute, had noticed that one of the conveyor belts had formed a loop and required an engineer to reset it.  

Machine Injury

Christopher, Playford Packaging’s main engineer, and a colleague went inside the fixed perimeter guard of the machine and closed its interlock gate. By closing the interlock gate, it meant that the machine could be restarted. He climbed within the machine to reset the conveyor belt and then remained in a section of the machine where it was possible to stand while the machine was running.  

Christopher asked for the machine to be switched back on. Within seconds of the machine starting up, he felt a tugging on his arm. It’s thought the sleeve of his overalls became caught in a nearby exposed chain drive, which pulled Christopher’s hand into the chain mechanism and amputated his left hand at the wrist. His colleague pulled him out from under the machine and the Welsh Air Ambulance took him to hospital in Stoke. From there he was transferred to Royal Derby Hospital’s Pulvertaft Hand Centre, where surgeons re-attached his hand during an 11-hour operation.  

Repercussions

However, more than 18 months later, Christopher still has very limited movement in his hand, and he can no longer drive or do many of the things he previously enjoyed. He still suffers significant pain in the area of the amputation.  

During the investigation carried out by HSE the risk assessment, safe systems of work covering the operation, cleaning, use and repair of the machine, the maintenance log for that machine and the manufacturer’s handbook were requested. 

Risk assessment

The HSE noted that risk assessment wasn’t suitable or sufficient as it didn’t consider any repair or maintenance to the machine. There was no safe system of work for either operation or repair and maintenance of the machine by the engineers. 

On 14 September and Llandudno Magistrates’ Court, Riftward Limited, trading as Playford Packaging, pleaded guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. The company was fined £115,000 and ordered to pay costs of £5,308. 

It was also found that it was common practice to bypass the gate that kept people and the machine separated, and to stand within the fenced area whilst the machine was in operation, demonstrating a lack of adequate supervision.  

Machine isolation

Employees hadn’t received any instruction for the safe isolation of the machine and an important element in this story is that what was happening was reactive maintenance. The operator noticed that the conveyor had come off, this was a well-known problem on this machine, and if they had just spent time maintaining this machine prior to this type of incident, it might not have ever happened and Christopher’s life wouldn’t have been so terribly altered. 

Information relating to managing risk and risk assessments at work can be found here.

Another article on health and safety news is available here.

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Steve Kilburn
Steve Kilburn
I initially trained as an industrial chemist working in a variety of manufacturing environments eventually moving into quality management which grew to encompass environmental and occupational health and safety management systems. I hold a Masters Degree in Health and Safety law and Environmental Law and a Post Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Waste Management and I am a Graduate Level Member of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). In my spare time I enjoy reading, my favourite author is Stephen King, and listening to music, generally from the late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.
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