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Health and safety challenges in the manufacturing industry

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has recently highlighted the need to improve workplace health and safety in the manufacturing sector.

A risky place to work

The sector is a huge employer, currently accounting for around 10% of the British workforce, but can also be a risky place to work. Around one in five notifiable workplace fatalities and reported injuries occur in manufacturing, and workers can also face additional risks to their health through workplace exposures.

In the last year alone, an estimated 3.1 million working days were lost due to accidents and ill health in the sector.

“A vibrant health and safety culture can help to drive other areas of business success, resulting in a more efficient and effective workforce, bringing with it greater employee engagement and creativity,” explained Rob Burgon, RoSPA’s workplace safety manager. “Work-related deaths shatter families and have massive consequences for businesses, communities and society as a whole, so it is clear to see why health and safety makes good business sense.”

Worker for bus manufacturer injured

The dangers faced by workers in the manufacturing sector are many and varied, and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) conducts many investigations within the sector when these dangers result in injuries to workers.

In one case, a worker at an Edinburgh registered bus manufacturer was seriously injured after falling from a poorly-guarded gantry at the firm’s Sheffield plant.

The man was working on the exterior of a double-decker bus but got too close to an open edge of a gantry platform and fell two metres to the ground. He suffered head injuries, a broken and dislocated elbow and a fractured big toe. Fortunately, he has now recovered sufficiently to return to work.

The HSE investigation found that the company had failed to provide a safe method of working at height for employees. It had also not given employees sufficient training or provided them with suitable gantries for the type of work they were doing.

The company was fined a total of £26,800 and ordered to pay £5,286 in costs after admitting single breaches of the Work at Height Regulations and the Management of Health and Safety Regulations.

Worker sustains horrific injuries

In a second incident, a worker suffered horrific injuries following a factory blast at an engineering firm in Worcestershire.

The 51-year-old was involved in pressure testing a 335-litre vessel after concerns had been raised about the quality of its welding. The vessel exploded and tore apart, with one part hitting the worker and forcing him into a cabinet against a wall.

He was hospitalised for several months and had to have both legs amputated. He also suffered head injuries and has severely restricted movement in his arms, which have been repaired with metal plates.

Failure to manage risks

The HSE investigation found that rather than testing the welding by filling the vessel with water, the firm had decided to use compressed air.

Pneumatic testing is a dangerous activity and significant planning is required to ensure the risks are managed. The firm failed to implement this risk management and the pressure built up in the vessel to such an extent that it exploded.

The company was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £15,325 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

“The injuries sustained in this incident were more akin to those sustained on a battlefield,” commented HSE inspector Ed Fryer. “The vessel exploded like a bomb during the course of a normal working day, and everyone in the factory was at risk from the operation because no measures were put in place to protect them.”

“It is a miracle that more people were not injured and that nobody lost their life,” he added.

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