Accidents resulting in amputation are amongst the most life changing accidents. Whilst there will always be accidents resulting from pure bad luck they are thankfully rare. It is usually poor attention to health and safety that is the root cause. Most of these accidents are caused by poor adherence to health and safety principles, and this places the blame squarely on the employer.
There are many ways in which an amputation can occur. Machines with cutting or rotating parts can cause an instant amputation if used incorrectly, whilst other amputations occur in hospital when the injuries sustained are too severe to allow the patient to keep the limb.
In March 2017, a cable manufacturer was fined £40,000 after an employee lost a finger. The machinery was not guarded which allowed the employee to put his hand inside the machine which brought it into contact with dangerous parts of it. HSE ruled that the employer should have anticipated the risk and ensured that the accident was prevented.
Again, in March 2017, a producer of concrete blocks in the West Midlands was fined £300,000 and ordered to pay an extra £10,092 in costs when a poorly planned unloading operation when wrong resulting in a 42-year old man losing his leg from the shin down.
From operating machinery without installing guards to putting hands inside to clear blockages without taking the necessary precautions, many accidents involve agency workers or cover staff who have not been made fully aware of the procedures in place to avoid accidents. Even big companies are not immune from accidents caused by insufficient training. In January 2017, Jaguar Land Rover was fined £900,000 when a four-car shunt resulted in the amputation of a worker's right leg above the knee. It was determined that the delivery driver who caused the initial accident had been covering the shift but had not been made aware of the correct procedure.
Machinery missing guards, or operating with faults, can also cause serious injury. In April Norwich Magistrates Court fined a feed mill company £50,000 after a cleaner lost his little finger when a slide valve opened whilst he was cleaning around it. It was later discovered that metal guards, intended to prevent workers from accessing the dangerous parts of the machinery, were in fact missing.
Is enough being done to protect workers?
Although the reported numbers of employees suffering amputations has decreased over the last three years the number still stands at a considerable 600 workers. And these numbers could be even higher - as it is well known that not all non-fatal accidents are reported under the RIDDOR scheme.
With hefty fines for companies found to be at fault in an accident it is easy to see why companies would prefer to avoid reporting incidents to HSE if at all possible. And yet it should not be fear of prosecution that drives employers. Nearly all accidents resulting in amputations can be avoided.
What can employers do?
The simplest thing employers can do to avoid amputation risk is to keep up to date with their health and safety risk assessments and take action to rectify any risks identified. When new machinery is brought into use, or if the operation of existing machinery is altered, employers need to undertake a new risk assessment and ensure workers are fully trained in safe operating procedure.
Similarly, when new staff — whether casual or permanent — are taken on, employers must be proactive about providing them with sufficient training to be able to perform their job safely. It is especially important that cover staff — who may only be present for one or two shifts — are given an overview of procedures sufficient to keep them safe.
And where a risk is identified it must be mitigated as soon as possible. In January 2017, a Welsh landfill company was found guilty of breaching sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and were fined £180,000 plus costs. The injured worker was crossing the yard when he was hit by a shovel loader which resulted in amputation of both legs mid-thigh and several months in hospital.
The resulting investigation found that the employer had no controls or procedures in place to separate pedestrian and vehicular traffic, the volume of which was extremely high. Although the employer had previously identified the risk they had not undertaken any remedial action. Remedial action that would have separated pedestrians from vehicles and would, ultimately have prevented the accident.
Safety first might be a clichÃ© but it is a clichÃ© that saves employees from life changing accidents — and employers from litigation.
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