Steel company fined after worker trapped under drill

A Preston steel firm has been sentenced after one of its employees suffered serious internal injuries when he became trapped in an industrial drilling machine.

Joseph Spencer narrowly avoided being paralysed when a rotating drill passed through his overalls and jeans, and became lodged close to his spine.

The worker sustained long-term injuries including a split bowel, twisted pelvis and nerve damage to his right hand. He is also being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

His employer, Leach Structural Steel Work, was prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive following the incident at its factory in Garstang Road, Claughton on Brock on 29 November 2010.

Preston Crown Court heard on Friday that Spencer had noticed that coolant was not properly feeding onto the drills on a machine which drills holes in steel beams used in frames for new buildings.

As he positioned himself between the drill and one of the beams to try and fix the problem, the drill moved forwards causing him to become trapped. He was unable to reach the emergency stop button and a colleague eventually stopped the machine after hearing his screams.

A HSE investigation found Spencer had been able to gain access to the machine through a loosened fence panel, which was regularly used as a gate by workers at the factory.

This meant they avoided passing photoelectric light guards that automatically stopped the machine when someone walked through them. The court was told there had previously been problems restarting the machine after the light guards had been activated, and so workers avoided passing them.

Leach Structural Steel Work pleaded guilty to a breach of the Provision & Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 by failing to prevent access to dangerous parts of machinery.

The company was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £12,500 towards the cost of the prosecution.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Rose Leese-Weller, said: "This was a horrific incident which led to Mr Spencer suffering injuries that will affect him for the rest of his life.

"The loosened fence panel had been used as a gate by workers for several years, bypassing the automatic safety system. But the company failed to do anything about it.

"The photoelectric lights guards were installed for a reason and Leach should have made sure employees didn't bypass them. Power to the machine should have been cut before any attempt was made to carry out maintenance."

The employee at Leach Structural Steel Work was one of more than 3,800 workers who suffered a major injury while working in the manufacturing industry in Great Britain in 2010/11. Another 27 workers lost their lives.

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