All employers have a duty to ensure that the work place is safe, that that they have safe systems and that the use of equipment involves a careful risk assessment to avoid or at least reduce injury for employees. One very common mechanism for managing the risk of moving machinery is the application of protective guards to stop clothing and parts of the body being drawn into machinery and crushed or otherwise injured. All employers providing work equipment with moving parts where such injury could occur should carry out a risk assessment and take the necessary steps with provision of working guards to stop this from happening.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) successfully prosecuted a Newhaven waste management company, Skip-It Containers Ltd, after an employee’s arm was caught in a conveyor at a material recycling plant. On this occasion the HSE also pursued the individual directors of Skip-It and penalties were awarded by the court against both the company and the two directors.

The employee concerned was working on site and using a mechanical conveyor belt. Although the belt had protective guards, they were not in place and operating as they should have been. The employee’s arm was caught and pulled into the conveyor machinery, causing serious injury to his arm and hand. Because of the severity of the injury and the fact that it involved workplace equipment, the HSE investigated the incident. It concluded that Skip-It had failed to ensure the conveyor guards were maintained and fully functioning at all times, that the risk of this incident happening should have been identified and addressed, and that the two individual directors, Mark Penfold and Rachael Penfold, failed to take responsibility for and monitor health and safety including machinery safety standards.

The HSE was specifically critical of the approach of the two directors, commenting after the case that ‘through their inaction, the directors allowed health and safety standards, including machinery safety standards, to deteriorate to such a point that dangerous situations developed’.

Skip-It was found guilty of breaching regulation 5(1) and regulation 6(2) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £120,000. Mark Penfold and Rachael Penfold pleaded guilty to breaches of regulation 5(1) and regulation 6(2) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and were given a 16 week custodial sentence, suspended for nine months, as well as a fine of £2293 each.

Philippa Luscombe, partner in the personal injury team at Penningtons Manches LLP, comments: “All employers have an obligation to their employees to take care of their health and safety. A protective guard on moving machinery is a common and often vital step to prevent what can be a very serious injury occurring. It is clear that in this case the machinery was not set up and operating in a way that minimised the risk of injury. This was an entirely avoidable accident, had proper attention been paid to health and safety requirements.

“While often the HSE only prosecutes a company, it does have the power to prosecute directors where it is of the view that the approach to health and safety is driven by the directors’ attitudes and management. There were clearly significant concerns about the approach of Skip-It and its directors to employee safety, so the HSE took steps to prosecute with a view to warning others that such failures are not acceptable. This shows the benefit of the role and actions of the HSE and it is hoped that the decision will prevent other injuries. Unfortunately, however, it will not undo what happened to Skip-It’s employee, Mr Randall, who has been left with permanent injuries after this incident.”