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CNC Operator injured due to disabled safety switch

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A Forest of Dean engineering company has been fined after an employee injured his hand on a machine where a safety lock had been deliberately disabled.

The worker, who does not wish to be named, almost lost a finger whilst trying to clear swarf (metal debris) from a large Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) milling machine at Quickmach Engineering Pressings Ltd in Cinderford on 12 November 2012.

Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court heard on 2 August that the employee, an experienced machinist, was working on components for the aviation industry. He had entered the machine to clear swarf with a stick when his right hand slipped and came into contact with a rotating cutter, which cut and almost severed his index finger. The worker has since had to have two operations and was unable to work for a considerable period.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident and discovered that an interlock switch to the sliding access door of the machine had been dismantled and deliberately disabled. An inspector established that it had been in this condition for at least two years.

Had the interlock switch been working it would not have been possible to enter the machine until the cutter had stopped rotating.

Despite this serious incident, when HSE visited the company on 6 Dec 2012, they found that the machine was still being used in exactly the same way, with a disabled interlock.

Quickmach Engineering Pressings Ltd, of Forest Vale Industrial Estate, Cinderford, Gloucestershire, was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £1,121 in costs after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 1(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Caroline Bird said:

“This was a completely needless and entirely preventable incident that left an employee with a painful injury.

“The CNC machine had been fitted with safety devices by the manufacturer, but Quickmach had allowed employees to deliberately dismantle them – a practice that had continued unchallenged for at least two years. Regular checks or visual inspection would have immediately identified that the switch had been deliberately disabled.

“HSE will not hesitate to prosecute companies where key safety devices such as interlock switches are manipulated in this way. Interlock switches are fitted to protect operators – they should not be overridden and management should not turn a blind eye to such practices.”

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