Heathcoat Fabrics, which makes engineered textiles used in PPE, was fined £300,000 after employee Anthony Seward sustained severe crush injuries as he prepared a stenter – a machine that dries cloth – for the next shift.

He did not realise that the rollers were on and his left hand was pulled into the machine. As a result of the incident on 23 August 2014, he had four fingers partially amputated.

Exeter Magistrates’ Court heard that a light curtain was installed around the stenter in 2009, which automatically stopped the rollers when someone approached the machine. Light curtains operate by detecting an obstruction in the path taken by a beam or beams of light.

However, the light curtain broke down in January 2014. Although replacement parts were later ordered, they were not installed, according to news website Devon Live.

Heathcoat Fabrics had carried out a risk assessment of the machine, which concluded that a “stop cord” that could be pulled to halt the machine in an emergency was sufficient as a safety measure.

The stenter remained in this condition for over two years, with the proper guard only being replaced the day after the incident.

HSE inspector Paul Mannell, quoted in Devon Live, told the court: “The stenter had been used for two years and seven months without a light curtain as they felt that the stop-cord would be sufficient to prevent the risk of injury, but they failed to appreciate what could happen due to a lack of concentration or other factors when someone entered the danger zone.”

Heathcoat Fabrics, based in Westexe, Tiverton, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 11 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations. It was sentenced on 22 August, when it was also ordered to pay costs of £2862.

Heathcoat Fabrics’ website says that it supplies textiles to the military, automotive and aerospace industries, and also manufacturers flame resistant and durable fabrics for use in workplace PPE.

After the hearing, Mannell said: “Mr Seward has suffered life changing injuries due to the company’s failures. An individual’s health and safety should not be made worse by the work they do.

“Dutyholders have the responsibility to ensure all dangerous machinery has the appropriate level of safety guarding for employees to be able to operate it.”

According to the BBC, surgeons were able to save most of Seward’s fingers by sewing his hand into a “pocket” in the skin of his abdomen for three weeks, which allowed the skin to heal and receive a supply of blood.

Source:  Health & Safety at Work Magazine August 2017