International fencing firm prosecuted for serious safety failings

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An international fencing manufacturer has been fined after a worker suffered severe injuries to his left arm at a production plant in Sheffield.

Betafence Ltd of Shepcote Lane, Sheffield, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for a serious safety breach following an investigation into the incident which happened on 7 August 2009.

Sheffield Magistrates’ Court heard how the employee suffered a dislocated elbow, compound fractures to his lower arm, and had parts of his skin ripped off as he tried to re-thread some wire through a machine block.

The worker, who has asked not to be named and has since left the company, was mending a wire break in one of the four rotating blocks of a wire drawing machine. Each block had a moveable guard fitted with an interlocking device which should switch off power to the block when the guard is moved out of position.

To re-thread the block, the worker had to lean into the machine. He had his left arm through the rotating block when the machine started moving unexpectedly. He has since had three skin grafts and two metal plates fitted to his forearm.

The investigation found that the interlock had failed to break the circuit and cut power to the block as it should have done, and as the worker leaned into the machine to repair the wire, it is possible he depressed the start or run switch inadvertently.

The court heard that Betafence Ltd had a system for checking the guards on its machines but it did not include checking the functioning of interlock switches on moveable guards.

The court heard that Betafence Ltd, which operates in ten countries and employs 2,000 people worldwide, had been convicted in 2003 in a prosecution brought by HSE for a machinery safety incident in 2002. Magistrates heard that the company, which traded as Bekaert Fencing Ltd and Tinsley Wire Ltd, had also been the subject of previous enforcement notices by HSE regarding guarding of machines in 2003 and 2005 plus several letters of advice about machinery guarding.

After the hearing, Inspector Jill Thompson said:

“The dangers of moving machinery are well known in industry and Betafence’s management of the risks posed to their workforce in this area has fallen below what is acceptable.

“This is an example of how a simple failure of a safety switch can result in life-changing injuries. Had the company included safety switch checking as part of the guard checking system, this incident would probably have been avoided.

“Prevention of access to moving parts of machinery is a clear duty upon employers and includes making sure that safety features of machines are maintained effectively.”

Betafence Ltd, which has its headquarters in Belgium, was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £3,762 costs for a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations.

There were five deaths and more than 550 major injuries in the manufacturing sector in Yorkshire and the Humber according to the latest 2010/11 HSE statistics. A further 1,900 less severe injuries were recorded.

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