• Robert Spicer

Health and safety horrors: examples from industry


Foundry death from grinder

Stuart Stead, an employee of H.I. Quality Steel Castings Ltd, was using a hand-held grinder to work on a casting at the company foundry in Doncaster. The disc fitted to the machine exploded and sent fragments across his workbay. A shard struck him in the mouth. He suffered fatal injuries. The disc was nine inches in diameter despite the fact that the grinder had a maximum tool diameter of two inches unless guarded. It was attached to the grinder by using a non-proprietary tool. The disk was rated for 6650 rpm but was running at 12,000 rpm. The grinder had no guard. The excessive speed of the grinder, coupled with the added load caused by the non-standard attachment, had put stresses on the disc beyond its capacity.

The HSE investigation had discovered a number of previous incidents when discs had flown off grinders. None of these had been mentioned in monthly minutes of the company health and safety meetings. Despite some initial training in abrasive wheels, employees did not understand rotation speeds of machines versus discs and had free access to a number of grinders and discs. This contributed to the prevalence of unsafe combinations.

Severed hand

In March 2016 a worker at Pipework Engineering Services Ltd was operating a foot pedal saw. His hand came into contact with the saw rotating blade. He suffered a severed hand and wrist which required surgical intervention to reattach. The company had failed to install the machine correctly and in accordance with the manufacturer instructions. This meant that it could be operated from a position which took the operator very close to the blade.

Death of steelworker in blast furnace

In April 2006 Kevin Downey was working a night shift at Tata Steel Port Talbot plant. He went to the cast house at the site to inspect the slag pool of a blast furnace which was due to close for maintenance. He fell into the open section of a channel containing slag at 1500 degrees Celsius. The company had a reporting system which showed a significant number of near misses where steam had led to dangerous situations.It was common practice to operate the furnace with channels left uncovered without taking additional precautions to prevent workers from falling in.

Severe head injuries in pneumatic metal press

In August 2011 Wayne Hill, a maintenance engineer, was working at H & E Knowles (Lye) Limited site. He was repairing a pneumatic metal press when it unexpectedly started working and crushed his head. He suffered severe head injuries including a fractured nose and jaw and lacerations. He needed extensive reconstructive surgery. The press takes a sheet of metal and forms it into a wheelbarrow body. It should not have been able to operate if the door was open. The machine had a faulty interlocking guard which meant that it did not detect that the door was open. The machine had been designed and built by the company 25 years ago. There were no technical drawings or other documentation and an adequate risk assessment had never been carried out. The machine broke down regularly and maintenance staff repaired it with no instructions.

Factory death: overturned vehicle

In April 2008 Martin McMenemy, an employee of O. Turner Insulation Ltd and Clegg Food Projects Ltd, was working on the construction of a food processing plant in Leicester. He was driving a scissor lift to install wall and ceiling panels. The vehicle overturned when it went into an uncovered pit. McMenemy suffered fatal head injuries. O.Turner and Clegg Food Projects Ltd, the principal contractor for the project, had failed to take precautions to cover the hole. The incident could have been prevented if the pit had been covered with a metal plate or cordoned off.

Flammable solvent fire: worker severely burned

In November 2014 an employee of HMG Paints Ltd  was using a highly flammable solvent to clean the floor of a spray booth at the company premises in Manchester. He complained about the difficulty of removing dried paint and was allowed to buy an industrial floor scrubber to carry out the work. The electric motor of the scrubber ignited a cloud of vapour which had built up in the booth. The worker suffered 26 per cent burns.The planning for cleaning floors with solvent had failed to recognise the hazard and level of risk associated with the use of highly flammable solvents to clean floors. The worker who was injured had not been trained to clean floors and was not adequately supervised.

Distillery fire: employee severely burned

In November 2012 ethyl acetate, a highly flammable liquid, was being moved from a bulk storage tank to an intermediate container at Alcohol Ltds warehouse.The liquid ignited. An employee was engulfed in flames and suffered twenty per cent burns to his head, neck and hands. The fire destroyed the warehouse and damaged nearby cars and houses.The HSE investigation found that the most likely cause of the fire was a discharge of static electricity generated by the transfer of the liquid.There was poor management of pipework and associated valves and a failure to completely inspect the equipment or monitor the systems of work.

Severed arm in conveyor belt

An employee of the company was making adjustments to a misaligned conveyor belt at Concrete Fabrications Ltds site in Henbury, Bristol. He had to adjust tensioning rods which were inside the machines guards. He tried, with a hammer, to remove material which had built up on a rod. The hammer was dragged into the rotating machinery with his arm. The arm was torn off between the shoulder and the elbow.The company should have had adequate guards on dangerous parts of the machinery. Clear procedures should exist regarding maintenance and adjustments of machinery and arrangements should be in place to ensure that machinery is not run without the necessary guarding in place, and that clear isolation and lock off procedures exist. A sufficient risk assessment would have identified the risks associated with tracking conveyor belts and identified appropriate control measures.

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