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Recycling firm sentenced over worker’s severed hands

Date:
16 April 2015

A recycling firm in Southampton has been sentenced for serious safety breaches after a worker had both hands severed while cutting metal strips on an industrial baler. 

Spanish-born Ivan Menendez, then 38, had been employed as an operative for seven months by Metal Processing Ltd at its site in Northam when the incident happened on 8 January 2014.

West Hampshire Magistrates’ Court was  told Mr Menendez’ hands were severed at the wrists when they got caught in the shear point as a hydraulic-powered baler lid lowered and met the corner of the baler. The lid had a maximum shear force of 76 tonnes. 

Photo shows the baler machine where the incident happened

He was taken to Southampton General and later transferred to Salisbury hospital where surgeons successfully reattached both hands.  Mr Menendez, who has since returned home to Spain, will need further treatment but will never regain full use of his hands. 

 The incident, along with a second incident involving lead contamination, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted Metal Processing Ltd for safety failings. 

HSE served an immediate enforcement notice on the company after the incident stopping any more hand-feeding of the metal for shearing on the baler by the workforce. 

The court heard Mr Menendez and a co-worker operated the baler between them to cut the strips on the shear point, but the system used was fundamentally flawed despite it being regularly used. Crucially, there was no direct line of sight between the operator who closed the baler lid and the hands of the worker loading the metal strips.  

HSE said it had been a routine task at the recycling plant and, although Mr Menendez had been shown what to do by practical demonstration and supervision, he had not seen or read the operating manual which says that baling machines should only be operated by one employee. 

HSE found Metal Recycling was unable to produce evidence it had carried out a proper assessment of the risks involved in the use of the baler for cutting metal strips.   

The court heard that a month later there was a second incident at the company. A 24-year-old worker, employed as a burner and scrapyard operative, was diagnosed with lead poisoning after spending two days cutting up a section of lead boat ballast. 

The worker, from Southampton, was treated over a period of several weeks and later resigned from the company. 

Metal Processing Ltd, of Princes Street, Northam, Southampton, was today (16 April) fined a total of £35,000 and ordered to pay £3,000 in costs after admitting breaches of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, in connection with Mr Menendez’ incident; and a further two breaches in connection with the lead poisoning incident. 

After the hearing, HSE inspector Michael Baxter said: “This was a horrific incident which has resulted in lifelong debilitating injuries for Mr Menendez. It has been understandably devastating for him and his family. 

“The immediate cause was an inherently unsafe system of work, which was contrary to the manufacturer’s operating instructions and the safety instructions on the machine. 

“In addition there was also an issue with guidance provided by the British Metal Recycling Association and I am glad to say they are revising this to bring it into line with ours. 

“When working with lead employers must ensure that they and their employees have fully understood the requirements of the Control of Lead at Work Regulations and the control measures necessary to avoid contamination.” 

Waste and recycling is a high-risk industry. It accounts for only about 0.5% of the employees in Britain, but 2.6% of reported injuries to employees. For advice on the waste and recycling sector visit www.hse.gov.uk 

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 4(3) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 states:  Every employer shall ensure that work equipment is used only for operations for which, and under conditions for which, it is suitable. 

3. Regulation 3(1)(a) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states:  Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work. 

4.  Regulation 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.” 

5.  Regulation 5 of the Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002 states:  An employer shall not carry out work which is liable to expose any employees to lead unless he has (a) made a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk created by that work to the health of those employees and of the steps that need to be taken to meet the requirements of these Regulations; and (b) implemented the steps referred to in sub-paragraph (a). 

6. HSE news releases are available at http://press.hse.gov.uk/

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