Ignoring the HSE Is Costly
Most business owners and managers know that to persistently ignore the advice and warnings given to them by HSE Inspectors is foolhardy. Yet surprisingly, cases still occur where people deliberately avoid taking the action that has been prescribed. This recent example comes from a manufacturing concern.
Despite the decline in the sector, more than 3.2 million people are employed in manufacturing in Great Britain. Last year, 25 workers lost their lives and there were over 4,000 major injuries. This highlights the need for stringent safeguards and also points up the value of properly-qualified safety consultants.
The owners of First Packaging Ltd, a Bolton-based packaging manufacturer, have been sentenced for deliberately ignoring formal safety warnings in three different sites, over a period of three years. They have as a result been prosecuted by HSE for failing to install guards on machines that produce fast food packaging.
The machines remove paper from the ends of giant rolls that have previously been used when printing newspapers. However, there were no guards that might prevent workers’ hands being pulled in by the machinery.
HSE issued an Improvement Notice in January 2008 ordering guards to be installed on the machines. The company was given a six-month extension on the deadline to comply, but when the site was revisited that August, there were still no guards. First Packaging told the inspectors that the plant was to be closed, so they took no action.
It was discovered in early 2010 that in fact, First Packaging had moved to new premises in Westhoughton, still using the same unguarded machines. Inspectors then issued two Prohibition Notices to stop work immediately, together with another four Improvement Notices.
Later in 2010 First Packaging Ltd stopped trading but its Director Anthony Smith set up First Packaging North West Ltd, at Pilot Works, Bolton. Yet again, he still did not have guards fitted to the same old machines: so in February 2011 no fewer than five Improvement Notices were served.
The result was that Anthony Smith and Yvonne Barrett both pleaded guilty at Trafford Magistrates’ Court to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 by not preventing workers being put at risk at the Westhoughton site, and failing to comply with the Improvement Notice issued at the original Wadsworth site.
Mr Smith also admitted failing to ensure the safety of workers at the new Pilot Works site. He was fined £705 plus £2,500 in prosecution costs on 9 September 2011. Mrs Barrett was fined £360 plus costs of £1,500. Bear in mind they would also have had their own legal costs.
HSE Inspector Alex Farnhill commented:
“The two directors deliberately set out to avoid complying with the legal warnings we issued, allowing their employees to continue to operate dangerous machinery. The risk of workers’ hands being pulled into unguarded moving machine parts and belt drives is well known in the manufacturing industry. It’s only luck that none of Mr Smith and Mrs Barrett’s employees were injured in this case. It beggars belief that they chose to put workers at risk of serious injury after enforcement notices had been served, deciding to put profit over the safety of their employees.
We had no choice but to prosecute when they continued to deliberately and fragrantly ignore the formal warnings.”
Assessment plus Follow-Up
One can only echo the words of the Inspector: there is no justification for a failure to guard a machine in the 21st Century. It should be abundantly clear from risk assessments that such machines are not fit for purpose. But that is not enough. Too many people consider their job done when they have written the assessment documents. The real task lies in the implementation.
For genuine, industry-trained health and safety consultants that never forget they work for you, but also know the rules and when they must be applied, call McCormack Benson Health and Safety. They will help ensure that you take action when needed and that you stay the right side of the law as well as maintaining a safe working environment.