Prevention is better than compensation
13 May 2014
Jane Gittins, Head of Legal Operations at Spencers Solicitors, looks at the importance of companies taking a long and hard look at machine safety issues on their premises, and provides some examples from her recent experience where training or maintenance problems have caused injury.
As a personal injury lawyer, almost everyday I receive enquiries from injured employees seeking advice on whether they have a right to claim compensation for the injury they have suffered.
To give an idea of the number of accidents that involve machinery, in 2012/13 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported that there were 760 major injuries and 17 fatalities due to ‘contact with machinery’. These are significant figures, but the same report also estimates that only 56% of all such non-fatal accidents are actually reported within the manufacturing sector.
With this in mind, looking into how machinery accidents happen, and how we can prevent them in the future, is a step employers and employees alike should take.
Following a review of some of the recent cases in which we have been instructed to pursue a claim following an accident involving machinery, I have identified the most common issues that have either caused or contributed to the accident.
• No training provided
• Insufficient training provided
• Faulty machines
No Training Provided
We recently acted for an injured employee who had received no training whatsoever on the machine he was working on when injured.
Our client was working on machine A, next to machine B. He could see that one of his colleagues was working alone on machine B at a point in the process that required two workers. His colleague was struggling and he went to assist. Whilst assisting, things went wrong, and our client ended up suffering a crushing injury to his lower body.
Our client had never received training on machine B, despite the fact that most days he ended up assisting someone on the machine, and his supervisor was well aware of this.
This case highlights just how important it is to make sure that employees are not only trained on the machine they are employed to work on, but also on any other machines they may end up assisting on. It is also important that supervisors and managers are aware what training each employee has received, and if they see an employee working on a machine they have not been trained to use, they inform the employee not to work on the machine until they have received adequate and appropriate training.
In recent difficult economic conditions, many businesses have been struggling and reductions in headcount have been commonplace. If your business has restructured or reduced the number of employees, it is worth checking that if roles have changed as a result, all current employees have been trained on all the machines they use, or might use. Also, if any modifications have been made to the machinery, the need for refresher training should be considered.
Insufficient training provided
Another common cause of accidents is where the employee has received some basic training, but it is insufficient for the task in hand and when the employee subsequently uses the machine unsupervised, there is an accident.
I have a couple of examples of this.
One of our clients had attended a training course on the use of woodworking machinery and sat a written assessment. He was also assessed for his competence in setting up and using the machine, before being allowed to use the machinery.
Whilst using the machine unsupervised, the guards on the machine were not set correctly and our client suffered a traumatic injury to his hand.
The HSE became involved and carried out an investigation, concluding that our client had received insufficient training, never having received one-to-one supervision whilst using the machine.
Another client also suffered an injury to his hand while employed as a general operative. Part of his role was to use a machine to cut tubing, on which he received two and half days training before he was left unsupervised to carry out this role.
Depending on the diameter of the tubing the machine had to be reset. As our client was resetting the machine, the tubing caught the start lever and the machine then crushed our client’s finger.
These cases highlight the importance of checking that the training provided is sufficient, and that the individual employee is actually competent following the training to start using the machine unsupervised. One size may not fit all.
This is an area of law that has recently changed. Prior to 1st October 2013, if an employee was injured as a result of faulty work equipment, even if the employer could prove that the equipment had been well serviced and maintained, it was unlikely the employer would avoid liability for the accident.
Now it is not quite so straightforward, and the employee may have to establish that the equipment has been negligently maintained by the employer to establish a claim.
Again I have a couple of examples of employees that have been injured as a result of faulty machinery.
Our client was a factory operator on a washer that cleaned parts. As he was loading parts on the tray, the door of the machine closed, crushing our client’s hand due to the failure of the safety bar.
In this example it may well be that until the safety bar failed, the employer had no way of knowing there was a fault with the machine and that nothing could have been done to prevent the injury.
My next example is a bit more complicated.
Our client was employed to work on a machine which involved placing boxes onto a conveyor belt. The machine was always breaking down and to keep things moving, it had become common practice for operatives to push the boxes into the machine manually when the machine was not working properly. On the day of the accident the machine had broken down a number of times. Our client had two boxes left to put on the conveyor belt when it broke down again. He put the first of the two through manually, with no issues. As he was putting the second box through his arm got caught and was pulled by the rollers, causing injury.
This case highlights the importance of making sure that as well as providing training on how to use the machine, that all employees are trained on what to do when something goes wrong with the machine.
We also receive many enquiries regarding injuries sustained when cleaning machines. Again, it is vitally important that employees receive sufficient training on how to clean the machine and are provided with the correct equipment. Fingers are very useful , and employees may well be tempted to use them to clean things. It is not unusual to come across clients that have amputated the tips of their fingers whilst cleaning machinery.
Prevention is better than compensation because it is, of course, far better for both the employee and the employer if an accident never happens, and the employee does not suffer any injury.
About the author:
Jane Gittins is Head of Legal Operations at Spencers Solicitors in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, and oversees the section that deals with complex injury. She is an experienced personal injury solicitor with more than twelve years' experience representing injured claimants and is a member of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers.