An engineering firm in Sheerness has been fined after a 20-year-old worker was left disabled when a metal sheet landed on his feet, severing three toes from one and breaking all the toes on the other.
Anton Hunter, an engineer with GP Machine Shop Ltd in Queensborough, was helping a colleague unload a delivery of fabricated steel sheets at a nearby site when a 700kg sheet became dislodged from a magnet and fell directly on his feet.
His big toe and the next two on his right foot were sliced off and he suffered fractures to all the toes on his left foot. He has since had the second toe on the left foot amputated due to his big toe shifting following surgery. Mr Hunter, from Sheerness, has since returned to work in a reduced capacity but is still regaining his walking skills.
The incident, on 17 February 2014, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted (12 March) GP Machine Shop at Maidstone Magistrates’ Court after finding the firm failed to check the magnet used was the correct one for the job.
The court heard that the two workers had unloaded two smaller metal sheets successfully but a third had become detached from the magnet and fallen. The two men believed the failure was due to the cloth around the magnet so they removed it and started unloading the larger 700kg sheets.
One lift was achieved but the second failed mid-way and the sheet slipped from the magnet just as Mr Hunter jumped down from the back of the delivery vehicle and was helping to guide the sheet.
HSE identified that the magnet, which had been on hire to GP Machine Shop for a month, was not designed for the size and weight of the sheets involved, either the smaller or the larger type the employees had been asked to deliver. Both had a 12mm depth whereas instructions for the magnet stated that anything less than 20mm should not have been lifted and the maximum weight was 400kg.
GP Machine Shop Ltd of Argent Road, Queensborough, Sheerness, Kent, was fined £16,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,036 after admitting a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
After the hearing, HSE inspector Rob Hassell said:
“Anton Hunter, a young engineer, had his life put on hold after suffering a debilitating injury that may impair his ability to walk for the foreseeable future.
“The incident could have been prevented if GP Machine Shop had carried out suitable checks to ensure the lift was within the operating capacities of the magnet. Instead, it seems that in an attempt to improve deliveries, an entirely inappropriate piece of lifting equipment was chosen.
“Companies should ensure the equipment they want to use is fit for its intended purpose. Manuals for lifting devices are available to download or direct from the makers. The safe working load (SWL) of lifting equipment is a maximum capacity in optimum conditions – any deviation needs to be investigated and tested.”
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(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 states: Every employer shall ensure that work equipment is so constructed or adapted as to be suitable for the purpose for which it is used or provided.