Michael Ellerby / Feature Articles

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Health and Safety: Written Procedures are not enough

Many people are happy to hide behind paperwork, but we all really know that having written procedures is not enough. They need to be effective and they need to protect people from harm.  The employer must ensure that workers are aware of these procedures and that they are following them.

In a recent case, a well-known tyre manufacturer was fined £20,000 (with costs of £4,330) after an employee sustained major injuries to his arm when it became trapped in a tyre-testing machine. The worker broke his arm in three places in an incident in January 2012. The tyre company was prosecuted by the HSE (the Health and Safety Executive) after the HSE investigation discovered that the safety procedures for carrying out maintenance work on the machine were inadequate.  The Magistrates’ Court heard that the worker was trying to fix a fault on the machine, which occurred when it was switched back on following the Christmas shut-down. The Court was informed that the worker switched the machine to manual mode and removed one of the guards to repair the fault. After this, he returned the machine to automatic mode and it processed two tyres successfully before becoming struck again. It was reported that the worker then reached back into the machine, at which point it started operating again and trapped his arm.

The HSE investigation found that the fault had occurred a number of times in the past after the machine was restarted following previous Christmas shut-downs, but [The Company] had failed to carry out a specific risk assessment for the maintenance work. In addition to this, there was also limited supervision of the maintenance employees, the general knowledge of the company’s written health and safety procedures was poor, and there was no system in place to check that the company’s Safe Working Procedures guidelines were being followed in practice, according to the investigations findings.
The Company pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined. Following the verdict, an HSE Inspector said:
“A moment’s lapse in concentration left an employee with major injuries to his left arm because [the Company] management of the risks from maintenance work wasn’t good enough … The fault with the machine had occurred before, following previous Christmas breaks, but the company didn’t have a specific risk assessment in place to make sure it could be fixed safely.”
“Although {the Company} did have written Safe Working Procedures, they were not effective because the employees were either unaware of them or weren’t following them, and no effort was made to check that the procedures were being followed. This incident could have been avoided if [The Company] had done more to make sure that risks were being properly assessed and its employees were following safe working practices.”

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Mike brings a common sense approach to a subject where sense is often uncommon. His pragmatic approach combined with a professional approach to Health & Safety make a real difference to his clients.

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