Cellular Foam Business Sanctioned After Staff Member Dragged Into Machine

| General

In mid-January 2023 a cellular foam business was handed down a substantial criminal sanction following an incident in Oldham whereby a female colleague in a cellular foam factory suffered significant hand injuries after becoming involved in an incident with a factory machine. Due to the employer’s conduct and the extent of the injuries, the Manchester Magistrates Court imposed a one hundred and eighty thousand pounds financial sanction.     

What Happened In The Case?

The circumstances were upsetting as the female staff member removed a transparent screen from a blown line machine on business premises in July 2020 whilst taking pieces of material out of the machine after it stopped working due to a mechanical. Some colleagues had taken mitigation precautions by switching off the machine. However, unbeknown to the female member of the workforce, the machine had a backup power supply meaning that the machine could still operate despite the full power being disconnected. The machine dragged the female and trapped her hand within the machine. Sadly she sustained significant hand injuries. Despite the efforts of the medical staff sixty percent of her fingers could not be rescued and were amputated. As the amputation was directly attributable to health and safety breaches the Magistrates Court imposed a criminal conviction.       

What Did The Health and Safety Executive Say?

The HSE discovered that the business had failed to implement a system for taking small pieces of material out of industrial machines. The evidence suggested that the business was aware that the mechanism would become obstructed intermittently, the transparent safety screen was initially applied to the equipment some time ago for visibility purposes so specialist repairers could spot issues. However, the HSE found further evidence suggesting that the interlocking guard was absent. The omission of the visibility aid it exposed the insides of the equipment which could be reached through the hatch whilst the equipment were operating and no updated risk assessment procedures were in place after the transparent screen had been removed. The HSE criticized the business for not foreseeing the possibility that workforce members may use the gap to retrieve small pieces of material. The HSE also commented that the business had done little to spread surplus heat through the machine before it was accessed and was also damning over the employer’s decision to allow easy access to tools so the transparent screens could be removed and dangerous parts exposed.                  

Feet to the Fire?

When the business was brought to book on allegations of breaching its legal obligations under section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which obliges businesses to do all they reasonably can to ensure staff safety, it held its proverbial hands up to the submissions leveled at it. The Magistrates handed down a one hundred and eighty thousand pound financial sanction to dissuade others that it may be unwise to conduct themselves similarly.     

Lessons Learned?

Organizations can mitigate the risk of future events by using industrial equipment of this kind should reduce the risk of further incidents by::

  • ensuring the welfare of the workforce is protected by employers
  • make sure that procedures are in place for the safe removal of material fragments from machines when equipment becomes                                                                                                                                                                                                       
  • have a communication strategy in place whereby sufficient information is circulated to the workforce
  • ensure colleagues are aware if there is a backup power supply that may trigger causing injury risk
  • provide guidance and training on how to operate workplace equipment and
  • not allowing members of the workforce to access the internal workings of machines.


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[SOURCE 1] Health and Safety Executive – Company fined £180k after woman’s hand had to be amputated – 17th January 2023 - Company fined £180k after woman’s hand had to be amputated | HSE Media Centre

[SOURCE 2] Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 

[SOURCE 3] HSE –Why is machinery safety important? - Why is machinery safety important? (hse.gov.uk)

[SOURCE 4] HSE – Firm find after blind man falls into an open manhole – 15 December 2022 - Firm fined after blind man falls into open manhole | HSE Media Centre



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