Steelworker’s workplace injuries result in employer’s prosecution

September 20, 2012

A horrific accident at a Preston steel firm saw the employer sentenced in court recently and fined for its failure to comply with Health and Safety Regulations.

The accident happened when one of the large rotating drills used in making holes in structural beams needed maintenance. One of the steelworkers at the plant, Mr John Spencer, noticed that the coolant used to keep the temperature of the drill sufficiently low, had stopped flowing and attempted to find out why by examining the drill mechanism.

Just as he was examining the drill, it moved forwards unexpectedly and trapped him before he could reach the emergency stop switch to turn the mechanism off. The drill penetrated Mr Spencer’s clothing and his body causing him serious injuries, including to his bowel, pelvis and hand. Mr Spencer is also being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder as the result of the injury.

The Health and Safety Executive, in presenting its case at the hearing, said that there was normally a photoelectric switch that turned off the power to the drill automatically when somebody passed through its beam en route to the drill. This should have prevented the drill from operating.

The switch had regularly been by-passed by the steel firm’s workers, as it had not been maintained effectively and did not always work properly after the maintenance had been completed. When the drill mechanism needed attention, workers gained access to it through a surrounding fence.

This method of access was always potentially dangerous as there was no certainty that the drill was not going to start up as it did so in Mr Spencer’s case.

The HSE spokesperson said that the fence access had been used for several years but the firm had not bothered to do anything about either the defective photoelectric guard or the integrity of the fence.

The firm was fined £20,000 and also ordered to pay court costs of £12,500. The injury was one of more than 3,800 other serious injuries last year that affected British workers. There were 27 deaths caused by workplace injuries in the same period.