The worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, was employed by Signode, a division of ITW, as an electrical maintenance engineer at its Swansea, Wales, site. On 30 May 2013 he offered to help on the polyester sheet production line after one of the five people who were supposed to be on shift called in sick.
As he was rethreading plastic into the pinch roller, his glove was caught and the machine dragged in his right hand. He pulled his hand free but his index finger was so badly damaged it had to be surgically removed below the knuckle.
The HSE couldn’t visit the site to investigate because Signode stopped production and dismantled the line on 28 June that year. However, ITW provided the HSE with a risk assessment dated 17 January 2012 and photos of the equipment. The executive concluded from these that the company had not properly guarded machinery along the length of the production line.
HSE inspector Anne-Marie Orrells said: “The risk assessment highlighted that there were pinch points throughout the production line where people could get their hands and clothing caught. It made recommendations to put in place adequate guarding to prevent this, which they didn’t.”
There was a guard on the pinch roller but the HSE deemed it inadequate. The production line operator had to lift a handle that increased the gap between the rollers for the plastic to be threaded through. Orrells said this required the worker to make a conscious decision to reduce the hazard. An automatic system would have been more acceptable, such as interlocked guarding or telescopic trip switches.
ITW was sentenced at Swansea Magistrates’ Court, where it pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations, under which employers must prevent access to hazardous parts of machinery. It was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,018.
The company argued that its employees were trained to lift the pinch roller’s handle. Though the injured worker was experienced, he wasn’t a production line operator and said he had not received training.