Paper firm heavily fined after three workers injured by machines

A Lincolnshire-based paper firm has been heavily fined after three workers in its factory suffered hand injuries from using unguarded machines.

Three workers at the Fulbeck Heath factory of Staples Disposables Ltd have been injured over the last two years in accidents involving unguarded machines at its factory. The incidents are as follows:

  • On 26 July 2011 Mr Bruno Jorge, 32, had to have his left thumb amputated after it was crushed in unguarded machinery on a production line. He was off work for a considerable period of time but has now returned to other duties with the company.
  • On 25 August 2011 Ms Yelena Semenchenko, 30, cut her finger on the blade of a napkin folding machine. She also endured a period off work but did not return to work for the company
  • In August 2012 Mr Simon Burnett, 46, lost all four fingers on his right hand after it was caught between unguarded rollers on a machine. Mr Burnett is currently off work and it is not yet known whether he will return to the company or to work at all.

The reporting of these injuries led the Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) to conduct an investigation into the nature of the accidents and whether the employer was at fault. This investigation resulted in a recommendation that criminal proceedings be commenced against Staples Disposables Ltd for serious breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

The Lincoln Crown Court heard on 19 April 2013 that Mr Jorge’s injury was incurred whilst he was accessing the machine to clear a blockage – a normal practice at the firm. The court also heard that the HSE had discovered that the manufacturers had over-ridden interlocking guards on the machine that injured Mr Jorge so that engineers could access the machine more easily. Staples’ management knew about the missing guards but failed to implement any measures to reinstate the locks or prevent harm coming to their employees.

The HSE investigation also discovered that the accident to Ms Semenchenko was caused by the removal of an electrically-interlocked guard and that the third accident was caused by the maintaining of the highly-dangerous practice of locking machine operators within an enclosure to keep them away from the dangerous elements of a manufacturing line.

Staples Disposables Ltd was prosecuted under s.2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, namely that:

  • s.2(1): it had failed to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of its employees; and
  • s.3(1): it had failed to conduct its undertakings in such a way as to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that persons not in its employment who may have been affected thereby were not thereby exposed to risks to their health and safety

The company pleaded guilty to breaches of both sections. It was fined a total of £85,000 and ordered to pay costs of £31,380.

An HSE inspector stated after the court case that “Staples Disposables Ltd had a poor health and safety management system and failed to suitably supervise factory operations”.