After two horrific deaths in the waste and recycling industry in recent weeks, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), took the unusual step of issuing a warning regarding the safe use of moving machinery.
The sad fatalities at Baldwin’s Skip Hire in Norfolk and at Bywater’s MRF in east London have highlighted why anyone employing or using machinery in the waste sector should remind themselves of the relevant health and safety guidance for machinery guarding and isolation procedures.
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations is particularly relevant here – it requires the guarding of dangerous parts of machinery; requires a means of isolation from power supplies when access is needed to ‘dangerous parts’ and training in the safe use of any machinery, including training in cleaning, adjustment, maintenance and blockage removal.
Equally important are The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations. These require a competent person in a business to identify hazards and put in place controls. This means they must possess the relevant health and safety qualifications and experience.
Employers must, therefore, conduct risk assessments on individual machines to identify whether crushing, shearing, entanglement, impact or ejection hazards exist during both normal machine operation AND during manual intervention in the event of a malfunction, removing blockages, changing of cutters, filling lubricators, cleaning and maintenance.
When access is required to dangerous moving parts, it is essential that the power to machinery is fully isolated with a ‘lock off’ procedure to ensure it cannot be accidentally started again. The isolator should be locked in position and a sign should be used to indicate that maintenance work is in progress. Isolation requires the use of devices that are specifically designed for this purpose; not devices such as key-lockable emergency stops or other switches fitted to the machine.
Preferably use fixed guards on machinery too - those that require a ‘non-readily available’ tool to remove them and always ensure that they are re-fitted after removal. Only use moveable guards that are interlocked with the dangerous movement, where frequent access is required (i.e. more than once per shift) to prevent an inappropriate maneuver.
Employees require training in the safe use of any machinery, including cleaning, adjustment, maintenance and blockage removal. Operators should also complete daily machine pre-use checks on safety measures such as emergency stop buttons, to ensure they are fully operational. Young, inexperienced, casual or temporary workers are often employed in the waste and recycling industry will need greater supervision in addition to their training.
The HSE is tasked with reducing workplace fatalities and injuries by concentrating its efforts on sectors such as this one that are causing a spike in their statistics. The HSE has the power to charge for its time under the Fees for Intervention cost recovery scheme; starting at £129 per hour.
Furthermore, prosecutions can be brought against companies who blatantly disregard health and safety law even without an accident occurring. There has been a marked rise in the level of fines the courts are imposing upon businesses following the implementation of the Sentencing Guidelines in 2016. While ‘gross negligence manslaughter’ penalties are also currently under review, with the intention to implement longer prison terms for directors who disregard employee safety resulting in employee death.
There is therefore, a greater urgency for employers to meet their legal obligations either through effective risk management in-house or by seeking expert health and safety advice.