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Health and safety risks to engineering teams

Recent cases and lessons learnt

By Chris Brown | March 16, 2022

This article looks at the implications of three recent food and drink accidents, how the risks that contributed to each might have been managed, as well as the legal framework at play.
Risk & Analytics|Risk Management Consulting

The engineering and maintenance function is an essential area in food and drink manufacturing, with engineers carrying out tasks requiring specific risk controls. We look at three recent accidents and the implications for risk controls around equipment and tasks, before taking a closer look at the some of the legislation.

Case study one: Significant fines for ‘avoidable accident’

A scotch whisky manufacturer was fined £50,000 after an engineer was crushed by machinery, suffering injuries to his chest, shoulder, and leg, as well as a cut on his head when he was trapped by an extractor device.1

The company admitted breaching health and safety laws at the bottling plant where the accident occurred, according to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

The hurt engineer was from Fire Protection Group Ltd (FPG) which also admitted breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 19742 and was also fined £50,000.

Lessons learnt

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found FPG had failed to carry out a thorough risk assessment while the scotch whiskey manufacturer was found to have failed to give the necessary safety information to both its own employees and those of FPG.

Alistair Duncan, head of the Health and Safety Investigation Unit at the COPFS, described the incident as avoidable, reminding food and drink manufacturers of the importance of agreeing a safe system of work is in place and sharing all relevant safety information with workers.

Immediately after the event, the scotch whisky manufacturer carried out an internal investigation, worked closely with the HSE and incorporated the executive’s investigation findings into its safety management systems.

Case study two: Poor machinery maintenance contributed to life-changing injury

A food manufacturer was fined after a worker was trapped by a mixing machine. The worker in question managed to free himself, but in removing his arm from the machine, his thumb and two of his fingers were severed and he suffered serious tendon damage.3

The food manufacturer pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 19744 and the company was fined £787,500 and ordered to pay £33,443.68 in costs.5

Lessons learnt

An investigation by HSE found the machine that trapped the worker continued to run when the safety guard was lifted and also failed to respond when the emergency stop was pressed. The interlocking system was inadequate, and the company had failed to ensure the machine was effectively maintained. These matters were exacerbated by poor communication between the shop floor and maintenance and an inadequate fault reporting system.

At the time of sentencing, HSE inspector Carol Downes said the worker’s life-changing injuries could have been prevented and the risk should have been identified, adding, ‘Being proactive with preventative maintenance and good communication of faults can reduce the chance of harm.’

Case study three: Inadequate guarding leads to serious injury

Another food manufacturer was sentenced for safety breaches after a production supervisor suffered a serious injury when his hand came into contact with dangerous parts of a potato-processing machine.6

The supervisor was cleaning out machinery between product runs when his hand came into contact with a rotating auger which was not adequately guarded, leading to his thumb being amputated and his finger being broken.

The food manufacturer pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 11 (1) of the Provision and Use of work Equipment Regulations 1998, fined £33,333 and ordered to pay £670.53 in costs and a victim surcharge of £180.7

Lessons learnt

HSE found that access to the dangerous rotating auger was possible because the bagging unit conveyor and auger were not adequately guarded, and the machine did not comply with safety reach distances set out in BS EN 138578.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Julian Franklin said employers should make sure they properly assess and apply effective control measures to minimise the risk from dangerous parts of machinery and that simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices can avoid such incidents.

Food and drink engineering accidents: The legal framework

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER)9 places duties on businesses who own, operate, or have control over work equipment while The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 199910 requires a suitable and sufficient risk assessment is completed for all significant risks within the workplace, including work equipment and related tasks.

Food and drink manufacturers should consider the following when it comes to their engineering/maintenance functions:

  • Suitable for the intended use – The purchasing phase here is key, as new equipment can be bought without suitable guarding and safety features. Another common issue is buying domestic-rated equipment that’s not designed for daily usage. Hardwiring equipment is advised as part of this process, while an initial competent inspection is required for work equipment when it’s first selected and before it’s used.
  • Risk assessment – Assessments should be comprehensive and machine or site-specific. The assessments should cover all significant hazards, such as work at height, and be completed by a competent person. The site should consider using a dynamic risk assessment process to cover all engineering tasks, such as the Stop and Think assessment.
  • Isolation procedures – Defined procedures need to be in place to ensure any potentially defective equipment is isolated until repairs are completed. This is referred to as a ‘lock off and isolation procedure’ and should involve the use of isolation padlocks and lock-off registers.
  • Training regime – Work equipment should only be used by people who have received adequate information, instruction, and training. Employees overseeing work equipment should have specialist training on machine safety. A machine-specific safe system of work should be accessible, along with this being displayed adjacent to machines. An engineering training matrix should be created specifying competencies, and this should include evidenced mechanical and electrical training.
  • Permit to work – Businesses should consider implementing the permit-to-work system internally, as well as for external engineers. Suitable training for all involved in the process should be completed.
  • Health and safety control measures – Work equipment should have protective devices and controls. These will normally include interlocks, emergency stop devices, guarding, adequate means of isolation from sources of energy, clearly visible markings, and warning devices.
  • Associated inspections – Equipment that uses local exhaust ventilation and pressure vessels may require additional inspections and testing.
  • Monitoring/inspection regime – Equipment should be maintained in a safe condition and inspected to ensure it is correctly installed and does not subsequently deteriorate. Competent inspections should be arranged at suitable frequencies and added to Planned Preventative Maintenance system. Documented internal pre-usage checks should be completed for all work equipment and formally recorded and this should include the workshop and ancillary equipment. The pre-usage checks should evidence inspection of machine safety features, such as guards. Using machine maps that specify areas to check is recommended. The businesses should also consider audits of all engineering-controlled areas, for example, plant rooms and roof voids.
How can WTW help?

For support and advice on how to protect your workers and business from engineering accidents, please get in touch.












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