Contractor Fined after Guarding Failure Causes Accident


The need for proper machine guarding has been thrown into stark relief by an incident that has just come to Court. In it, a building contractor was fined due to a bad injury to a sub-contracted worker’s hand when he was allowed to use his own power tools unguarded.

This occurred on October 14th 2009 during a project to refurbish a block of flats. The unnamed self-employed carpenter who was injured was working at the property in Cleveland Street, Westminster, London, for contractor Grand Plans (UK) Ltd. The 22-year-old victim and his brother were responsible for levelling and insulating the second-storey floors.

Whereas safe implements should have been used, with the guards fitted, the man had brought and used his own hand tools which had the guarding removed. This included an unguarded bench saw which he made available for others to use.

On 4 April 2012, Marylebone Magistrates Court was told that the carpenter had been feeding timber through this bench saw, and the wood slipped out causing him to catch his hand on the blade. The result was that he severed half of his little finger and half of his ring finger on the right hand.

Following the accident the worker had several operations, and is still in need of more, to repair his damaged nerves and tendons. He is now unable to continue his career as a carpenter. These are largely irreparable life-changing injuries.

After the incident, a new saw with a guard was made available on site days later. But this was clearly something that should have been foreseen through a process of risk assessment and regular on-site observation. Had it been so, the shortcomings could have been put right before, and a bad accident avoided.

As Danielle Coppell, the responsible HSE Inspector, commented:

“A basic guard fitted to the bench saw is all it would have taken to prevent these injuries which have had such a devastating effect on such a young man. The safety awareness from Grand Plans (UK) Ltd was clearly well below the required standard, and it was within the defendant’s capacity to rectify it.”

The company has since gone into liquidation and failed to appear at the court hearing. At this hearing the Court found the former Grand Plans (UK) Ltd guilty of breaching Regulation 11 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment 1998 in relation to the incident. The company was fined £7,500 and ordered to pay full prosecution costs of £3,881. Whether these costs can be recovered is open to question.

The relevant piece of legislations, Regulation 11 of PUWER 1998, states: “Every employer shall ensure that measures are taken in accordance with paragraph (2), which are effective (a) to prevent access to any dangerous part of machinery or to any rotating stock-bar; or (b) to stop the movement of any dangerous part of machinery or rotating stock-bar before any part of a person enters a danger zone”.

The case highlights the dangers that often occur down the chain of construction safety from principal contractors to sub-contractors over whom they have a duty of care. Time-pressed managers and site supervisors need to have their eyes everywhere and to act immediately when they see unsafe practices. The practical solution is to engage the services of experienced local health and safety consultants: not just one-man-bands, but instead the properly trained and supported experts from a company like McCormack Benson Health & Safety.