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Castleford worker fears for future after losing fingers in machinery

Date:
29 November 2013

A worker had two fingers pulled from their sockets as he cleaned a silo because of a badly-guarded machine, a court has been told.

Castleford man Kevin Sharp, 39, is now classed as 50 per cent disabled and has had ten operations on his right hand since the incident at plastic recycling firm Regain Polymers Ltd, in Allerton Bywater.

The incident, on 21 December 2012, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted the company for safety failings at Leeds Magistrates’ Court today (29 Nov).

The court heard Mr Sharp had been asked to clean a silo that uses a large stirrer to blend plastic flake. Below the silo was a chute with a metal slide valve. However, a switch on the valve was broken and a piece of metal had been attached over one of the contacts of the switch. This meant the stirrer could rotate whilst the slide valve was open.

When Mr Sharp opened the valve to empty the silo, the chute was blocked with compacted flake. As he put his arm up into the chute to clear the blockage, his right hand made contact with the moving stirrer – two rotating angled blades.

His middle and ring fingers were pulled out, complete with tendons; the skin was torn from his index finger and the little finger was severely damaged. Surgeons were unable to reattach the fingers.

Mr Sharp has been told he is unlikely to be able to undertake manual work again.

HSE told the court that Regain Polymers, which employs around 100 workers at the Castleford site, had failed to make sure there was effective protection on the machine to prevent access by workers to dangerous moving parts.

Regain Polymers Ltd of Newton Lane, Allerton Bywater, Castleford, near Wakefield, was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay £634 in court costs after admitting a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Kate Dixon said:

“Mr Sharp is still struggling to come to terms with this life-changing injury. He is right handed so basic tasks such as writing, cutting up food – many things you take for granted – now cause him considerable difficulty.

“Although some effort had been made by Regain Polymers to address access to the silo stirrer, it was not adequate and was easily defeated.

“Companies should ensure that the measures they take to guard dangerous parts of machines are effective and maintained in working condition. Visual and functional checks of machinery and guarding arrangements need to be carried out and documented on a regular basis.

“Had these measures been in place, Mr Sharp may not have suffered the injury that will now affect him for the rest of his life.”

In a victim statement to court, Mr Sharp, who lives with his partner and has four children, said:

“I can just about write, but it’s like being a 13 year-old again – it’s not right neat and I can’t hold a pen for very long. I used to go ten-pin bowling all the time with my son, play pool and snooker but I can’t do that anymore.

“There’s lots I used to do and now can’t – gardening, learning to drive, golf, as well as everyday things. I can’t even cut my meat up – it’s a bit embarrassing when my 13 year-old son has to do it for me.

“Since it happened, I’ve struggled to sleep and had nightmares…I had lots of infections in my hand…I have to take tablets for phantom pains in the missing fingers – it still feels like I’ve got them. I’m waiting for another operation for my little finger to see if they can get some more use back, and they’ll do another skin graft on my hand at the same time.

“I feel as though my life is over and I’ll never be able to work again. I don’t know what I’ll be able to do in the future – who is going to set me on?”

More information about the safe use of machinery can be found at http://www.hse.gov.uk/work-equipment-machinery/puwer.htm

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
  2. Regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 states: “Every employer shall ensure that measures are taken, which are effective,to prevent access to any dangerous part of machinery or to any rotating stock-bar; or  to stop the movement of any dangerous part of machinery or rotating stock-bar before any part of a person enters a danger zone.

 

 

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