WHY SAFETY SWITCHES ARE VITAL
We regularly advise clients on the subject of machinery safety, guarding, fail safe mechanisms and cut-out devices and the sole purpose of this is to make sure employers are carrying out good safety practice. This is in order to ensure they meet their duty of care towards employees which in turn protects them from harm or in the worst case scenario – death.
A recent report on the HSE website illustrates this –
An employee working for a York-based specialist turf company died from serious crush injuries when he was struck and then run over by a 27-ton turf harvester. The incident (2011) was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who then prosecuted the employer. A key safety system on the machine had been deliberately bypassed.
The employee had been using the turf harvester during the morning but had been having technical problems with the operation of the machine. In the afternoon, a nearby resident heard a constant noise in the field and saw the machine had stopped against a tree with its wheels still in motion, churning up mud, but there was no driver. A co-worker in another field went to investigate and found the driver on the ground. He had died at the scene. It was clear he had been run over by the harvester and fatally injured.
HSE's investigation concluded he had been run over while walking alongside the machine to observe or adjust the operation of the cut-off mechanism at the front end that he had been having a problem with earlier that day. After he had been hit, the harvester continued to run and was only stopped when it struck the tree.
A key finding was that a wire link had been put across the terminals of a relay switch. This defeated a number of safety features on the harvester including, crucially, the cut-off switch attached to the driver's seat designed to cut the operation of the harvesting machinery if the driver was not sitting in the seat.
The harvester had been operated with the safety features disabled since 2009.
Further investigation revealed that the safety features on another turf cutting machine being used by the same company had also been deliberately defeated in 2011.
The company was fined £67,000 and ordered to pay £33,000 in costs.
Of course the real loss was to the family – the employee was 30 years old and a father of two.
Machinery is dangerous
Agricultural machines are inherently dangerous as are many other items of plant – forklift trucks – printing equipment – construction plant – fabrication equipment – etc – all have their dangers. An often used safety control are automatic lock-off switches that prevent the equipment from operating when enhanced risks are present, such as during maintenance, re-setting, installation, and of course normal operations.
Tampering with such mechanisms is an absolute NO NO and all employers must robustly enforce this. Where necessary taking disciplinary action where flagrant disregard is shown by operators, supervisors, managers etc.
In this accident the turf harvesting machine had a number of safety features to protect operators. The seat switch which had been disabled would have stopped the harvesting machinery moving forward when the operator left the seat.
Having good safety measures and procedures in place will minimise the potential of accidents occurring. When they are enforced with evidence such as equipment safety check lists, supervisory/management checklists and regular instructions to staff then protection to the company through their “due diligence” will provide some protection in the event that enforcement actions are taken. Not only that – these positive actions will help employers resist increases in the cost of the employers liability insurance premiums.
If you need any help or advice about how to protect your employees and safeguard your business please feel free to contact us.