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Sawmill fined after worker's arm crushed in conveyor

24 June 2013

A Herefordshire sawmill has been fined for safety breaches after an employee suffered severe crush injuries when his arm was dragged into the rollers of a poorly-guarded conveyor belt.

Hereford Magistrates’ Court today (24 June) heard that a saw operator at Pontrilas Sawmills Ltd was attempting to remove a piece of wood from the idling end roller of the conveyor as it was interfering with the operation of the machine.

As he went to take hold of the piece of wood, his hand and then his arm got drawn in and trapped between the conveyor belt and the roller. His co-workers rushed to help and one pressed an emergency stop button. The conveyor belt then had to be cut to release his arm.

The 24-year-old, from Hereford, who has asked not to be named, suffered crush injuries to his upper right arm and nerve damage that has weakened his arm and hand. He needs further nerve grafts to restore their use, and has not yet been able to return to work.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that on the day of the incident, 25 January 2012, the conveyor was affected by a fault which the company had been aware of for at least three weeks. The fault allowed an increasing amount of wood debris to accumulate at the idle roller end of the conveyor belt making it more likely that the machine would trip out.

The court was told the Pontrilas Sawmills Ltd failed to carry out a proper assessment of the risks associated with the conveyor belt. As a result there were no suitable controls in place, such as fixed guarding or interlocks. The conveyor did have a cover which was principally to reduce noise but also acted as a guard. However, at the time it was not lockable so did not fulfil the requirements of the regulations.

The investigation also found that the company did not have a written safe system of work, which would have identified the need to isolate the conveyor before attempting to clear debris, thus eliminating the risk.

Pontrilas Sawmills Ltd, of Hereford Sawmill, Pontrilas, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at work Regulations 1999 for failing to assess the risks associated with the conveyor belt, and Regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 for failing to prevent access to its dangerous moving parts. District Judge Nigel Cadbury said the company had fallen substantially below expected standards and fined it a total of £40,000. The company was also ordered to pay costs of £17,756.

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Chris Gregory said:

"This incident could have had fatal consequences yet was easily preventable had Pontrilas Sawmills carried out an adequate risk assessment of their equipment and properly supervised their employees.

"Conveyors of this type are recognised in the industry as being high risk, which is why they are so heavily guarded. Devices are installed on machinery with dangerous moving parts to protect those who work with them. Companies have a legal duty of care to ensure they are fitted and working effectively at all times.

"Failure to protect employees and put in place safe systems of work puts workers at unnecessary risk and is simply not acceptable. HSE will not hesitate to take enforcement action in cases such as this."

Information about working safely with machinery is available at

Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce 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.
  2. Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states: "Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of—(a)the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work; and (b)the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking, for the purpose of identifying the measures he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed upon him by or under the relevant statutory provisions and by Part II of the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997."
  3. Regulation 11(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 states: "Every employer shall ensure that measures are taken in accordance with paragraph (2) which are effective—(a) to prevent access to any dangerous part of machinery or to any rotating stock-bar; or (b) 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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