Breach of Duty: Health and Safety Standards for Guarding Machinery

The recent case of Health and Safety Executive v Compass Engineering Ltd and Kaltenbach Ltd demonstrated the importance of upholding health and safety standards in the workplace. 

The incident in question involved an employee, Lowe, who suffered severe injuries while inspecting a machine. The lack of guarding on the computer-controlled conveyor system led to Lowe being caught between a moving measuring head and a wall, resulting in life-altering injuries. Despite being a less experienced employee, the accident was attributed to the absence of proper guarding rather than Lowe’s level of expertise.

As a result, Compass Engineering Ltd, responsible for workplace safety, was fined £45,000 along with £24,000 in costs. They pleaded guilty to breaching the duty of care outlined in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Kaltenbach Ltd, the entity responsible for installing the machinery, also faced a fine of £30,000 and £16,000 in costs.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places a fundamental duty of care on employers towards their employees. Failing to ensure appropriate guarding on machinery can result in a breach of this duty, and the consequences, as seen in this case, can be severe for both employers and employees.

Key Takeaways for Employers

Employers must adhere to thorough inspection procedures, determined through risk assessments. These assessments should consider manufacturer recommendations, advice from relevant authorities, and other safety guidelines. Inspections should focus on safety-critical features, checking for signs of damage and deterioration that could create significant risks to personal safety.

The law requires that access to dangerous parts of machinery must be prevented, and the movement of such parts halted before anyone enters the danger zone. New machinery should be designed to prevent contact risks, and guards or protective devices must be installed where risks persist. The guarding standards are outlined in both PUWER and the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, a common hierarchy of protective measures exists, specifying the minimum safety standards for machinery. These include adjustable guards, jigs, push sticks, safe systems of work, and warnings of residual risk. Employers must adhere to these standards to ensure the safety of their employees.

While safe systems of work can be an alternative in certain circumstances, they should only be considered after a comprehensive risk assessment justifies why normal safeguards cannot be used. This alternative approach should be authorised by the person in control of the work, with additional training, supervision, and protective measures implemented. Safe systems of work should not be a substitute for manufacturer-provided safeguards.

The case of Health and Safety Executive v Compass Engineering Ltd and Kaltenbach Ltd highlights the importance of guarding standards for employers. Upholding a duty of care and prioritising employee safety through thorough inspections, adherence to guarding standards, and responsible use of safe systems of work are imperative for a safe and productive work environment.

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