A Sheerness engineering firm has been fined after a 20-year-old worker was rendered disabled when a metal sheet landed on his feet, severing three toes on one and breaking all the toes on the other.
Anton Hunter, an engineer with G&P Machine Shop Ltd in Queensborough, was assisting a colleague at a nearby site in unloading a delivery of fabricated steel sheets when a 700kg sheet became dislodged from a magnet and landed directly on his feet.
His big toe and the next two on his right foot were severed, and all of his toes on his left foot were fractured. Due to his big toe shifting after surgery, he had the second toe on his left foot amputated. Mr Hunter, of Sheerness, has since returned to work in a reduced capacity but is still working on regaining his walking abilities.
The incident occurred on February 17, 2014, and was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), who prosecuted G&P Machine Shop at Maidstone Magistrates’ Court after discovering the company failed to ensure the magnet used was the correct one for the job.
According to the court, the two workers successfully unloaded two smaller metal sheets, but a third became detached from the magnet and fell. The two men suspected that the failure was caused by the cloth wrapped around the magnet, so they removed it and began unloading the larger 700kg sheets.
The first lift was successful, but the second failed halfway through, and the sheet slipped from the magnet just as Hunter jumped out of the back of the delivery vehicle and began guiding the sheet.
HSE discovered that the magnet, which had been rented to G&P Machine Shop for a month, was not designed for the size and weight of the sheets involved, either the smaller or larger type that the employees were asked to deliver. Both had a depth of 12mm, whereas the magnet’s instructions stated that anything less than 20mm should not be lifted, and the maximum weight was 400kg.
G&P Machine Shop Ltd, of Argent Road, Queensborough, Sheerness, Kent, was fined £16,000 and ordered to pay £1,036 in costs after admitting to a violation of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
“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,” HSE inspector Rob Hassell said after the hearing.
“The incident could have been avoided if G&P Machine Shop had performed appropriate checks to ensure the lift was within the magnet’s operating capacities.” Instead, it appears that an entirely inappropriate piece of lifting equipment was chosen in an attempt to improve deliveries.
“Companies should make certain that the equipment they intend to use is fit for its intended purpose.” Manuals for lifting devices can be downloaded or obtained directly from the manufacturers. The safe working load (SWL) of lifting equipment is its maximum capacity under ideal conditions; any deviation must be investigated and tested.”