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Steel distributor feigned ignorance of band saw fault

A steel distribution company has been fined £400,000 after a worker’s leg was crushed in the vice of an industrial band saw at its distribution centre. 

Steel distributor feigned ignorance of band saw fault
The saw at the time of the accident. The band saw is painted orange and the grey part is the bespoke bed that the steel is put on prior to cutting. Number 2 shows indicator light.

An investigation by Rugby Borough Council’s health and safety team discovered safety guards fitted to the saw had been removed. Acenta Steel initially claimed to be unaware of a recurring sensor fault that put workers at risk.

The worker had returned to the factory floor at Acenta Steel’s steel distribution centre in Paynes Lane, Rugby, Warwickshire after a coffee break when the accident occurred in February 2016.

He saw that the saw’s warning light was flashing red, which indicated it had stopped due to a fault. After consulting a colleague, the worker decided the machine’s sensor had become blocked by steel filings and he climbed on to the saw to clear it.

Coventry Magistrates’ Court was told on 18 October that, as he was clearing the sensor, the machine’s vice started to move and his leg was trapped. Realising it was about to be crushed, the worker screamed to his colleague but by the time the emergency stop button had been pressed to cut the power to the machine, his leg had sustained several fractures.

The council’s investigation found that Acenta Steel had failed to carry out an adequate risk assessment of operating the machine without the safety guards. 

In a written submission to the investigating officer, the steel distributor stated the safety guards had been removed from the band saw so that steel wouldn’t get caught on an overhead gantry. The submission stated the machine’s sensor rarely needed cleaning.

However, Rugby Borough Council said that Acenta Steel later accepted the machine had developed the same fault four times a year over a three-year period, having previously stated it was unaware of the problem. The prosecution said this suggested there was a failure to monitor the machine’s performance. 

Acenta Steel pleaded guilty to a charge under s2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act. In its defence, the company described the accident as “an isolated failure by an otherwise safety-conscious company.”

District Judge Lesley Mottram said: “This is a piece of dangerous equipment. It is an integral, primary part of the company’s business.

“It was not guarded and there are recognised standards in the industry. If this company was unaware of the problems, this suggests a failure in their monitoring.”

Judge Mottram imposed a £400,000 fine on Acenta Steel and ordered the company to pay £10,695 in costs and a £120 victim surcharge.

Nick Warburton is deputy editor of IOSH Magazine 

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