Last reviewed 23 April 2014

Justin Tyas examines a case where a technician’s hand was severed while carrying out maintenance on glass cutting machinery.

A maintenance technician for a large glass manufacturer was investigating a fault with a colleague on new tilt table that had been installed by another company four months previously. The technician was on his hands and knees, trying to determine the fault that had activated the emergency stop.

Suspended above the technician’s right wrist was a large laminated sheet of glass, measuring 6m by 3m, and weighing about a tonne. The technician had his right arm extended, with a mirror in his hand, so he could check the status of a sensor relating to the release of glass onto the table. His colleague moved past another sensor on the tilt table and the glass sheet was released, falling onto the technician’s wrist and severing the hand.

Surgeons were able to reattach the technician’s hand with partial success. He was unable to work for several months while recovering from his injuries.

Machinery hazards

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) suggests moving machinery can cause injuries in many ways, including the following.

  • Being struck and injured by moving parts of machinery or ejected material; parts of the body can also be drawn in or trapped between parts such as rollers, belts and pulley drives.

  • Sharp edges can cause cuts and severing injuries; sharp-pointed parts can cause puncture wounds and rough surface parts can cause friction or abrasion.

  • Being crushed, either between parts moving together or towards a fixed part of the machine, wall or other object; parts moving past one another can cause shearing.

  • Parts of a machine, materials and emissions (eg steam) can be hot or cold enough to cause burns or scalds, and electricity can cause electrical shock and burns.

  • Injuries can also occur due to machinery becoming unreliable and developing faults, or when machines are used incorrectly, through inexperience or lack of training.

Statutory requirements

There are three principal legislative requirements that manufacturers, installers and suppliers need to be aware of.

  1. Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA) (general requirements).

  2. Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008 (supply requirements).

  3. Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) (user requirements).

The HSWA details the general duties for the safe manufacture, installation and supply of machinery, including second-hand equipment. Section 6 of HSWA places a duty on “any person who designs, manufactures, imports or supplies any article for use at work... to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the article is so designed and constructed that it will be safe and without risks to health”.

Those who install or erect work equipment/machinery must do so properly, following the manufacturer’s instructions, so that it will be safe for use. This duty is established under s.6(3) of HSWA. There are specific requirements for certain types of equipment that need to be examined before use to confirm it has been installed safely. For example, lifting equipment must have a thorough examination (ie a systematic and detailed examination of safety critical parts) under the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998.

The Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008 implement the EU Machinery Directive (2006/42/EC). The responsible person is often the manufacturer, but suppliers and installers also have duties under these regulations. The main requirements under these regulations are to:

  • identify all the hazards, including possible misuse that applies to machinery

  • design and construct the machine taking into account the manufacturer’s own risk assessment

  • meet the Essential Health and Safety Requirements (EHSRs) detailed in Schedule 3 of the regulations

  • make a Declaration of Conformity and CE mark the machine.

Anyone installing equipment supplied by a manufacturer needs to do so according to the manufacturer’s instructions and their specifications. Such equipment needs to be supplied appropriately CE marked, with a Declaration of Conformity in the name of the manufacturer or their authorised representative. The Declaration of Conformity is a formal written statement stating that the equipment meets the relevant EU supply directives.

Anyone installing equipment supplied by a manufacturer needs to do so according to the manufacturer’s instructions and their specifications. Such equipment needs to be supplied appropriately CE marked, with a Declaration of Conformity in the name of the manufacturer or their authorised representative. The Declaration of Conformity is a formal written statement stating that the equipment meets the relevant EU supply directives.

PUWER principally relates to the end users duties to ensure work equipment is:

  • safe to use and suitable for the intended purpose

  • maintained in a safe condition

  • only used by suitably competent trained personnel

  • accompanied by suitable safety measures such as safety devices and warnings.

Breaches

The company that installed the glass cutting line was prosecuted because it had not complied with the legal duties imposed upon installers of machinery. It was found guilty, after a month-long trial, of breaching s.6(3) of HSWA and was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £150,000.

Section 6(3) of HSWA states:

"It shall be the duty of any person who erects or installs any article for use at work in any premises where that article is to be used by persons at work to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that nothing about the way in which the article is erected or installed makes it unsafe or a risk to health at all times when it is being set, used, cleaned or maintained by a person at work."

Failings

The HSE’s investigation into this serous accident identified two significant failings attributed to the manufacturer and installer of the tilt table, which was part of the glass cutting line.

  • There were faults within the programme controlling the movement of glass — it allowed the glass sheet to be released even when the emergency stop had been activated.

  • The faults were exacerbated by the installation of the new tilt table, and the failure to integrate it properly into the existing equipment line.

Lessons learned

This serious accident was entirely preventable. It should not have been possible to release the glass after the table had been put into the emergency stop condition. Manufacturers and installers of equipment must ensure that any new equipment is compatible with, and suitably integrated into, existing assembly lines.

After an existing assembly line has been modified the new (assembly line) machine must comply with the relevant EHSRs. While these mandatory requirements can be wide ranging, they must take into account the potential dangers to which the operators, and others who may come into contact with the machinery, are exposed.

Typical examples of EHSRs are the requirement to provide adequate warning marks where there are moving parts that could trap parts of the body of operatives using the machine, or to provide safety guards to machine tools. The responsible person must ensure that a risk assessment is carried out in order to determine the health and safety requirements that apply to the machinery.