Plastic bag firm prosecuted over worker’s finger loss
A factory worker in Greater Manchester lost two fingers in a machine used to punch handles in plastic bags, a court has heard.
Karen Schoelzel’s employer, Arrow Flexible Packaging Ltd, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after the incident at the plant on Clarence Street in Golborne.
Trafford Magistrates’ Court in Sale heard the 53-year-old from Golborne was replacing the rubber insert under a cutting tool on 23 November 2010 when the machine started operating.
The tool came down on her left hand and, as a result, she lost her entire index finger and her middle finger to below the second knuckle. Mrs Schoelzel has been unable to return to work nearly a year on.
HSE issued six Improvement Notices and one Prohibition Notice after an inspector visited the site following the incident. The notices required safety improvements to be made to machines at the factory, and prevented a printing press from operating until suitable guards had been installed.
The HSE investigation found suitable guards were not in place to prevent workers gaining access to the cutting tool while the machine was operating, and that it was common practice for employees to change the rubber on the tool without the power to the machine being cut.
The investigation was unable to confirm what caused the machine to start operating when the rubber insert was being replaced, but it found the buttons which operated it were unsuitable and could have been pressed by accident.
Arrow Flexible Packaging Ltd pleaded guilty to a breach of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 by failing to prevent access to dangerous machine parts. The company was fined £3,500 and was ordered to pay £1,000 in prosecution costs on 28 October 2011.
Karen Schoelzel said:
“I can no longer do the job that I did, and will be limited to the types of jobs I can do in the future. I am affected by how I do everyday things such as gardening, shopping and even eating, because using cutlery is difficult.
“I used to go out socialising once a fortnight and now I don’t want to go. I haven’t been out socially since my accident happened. During the first three months, I didn’t leave the house except to go to the hospital to have my dressings changed.
“I saw a psychiatrist quite soon after the accident to help me come to terms with it because, at that point, I couldn’t and wouldn’t look at my injury.”
Speaking after the hearing, the investigating inspector at HSE, Emily Osborne, said:
“A worker has been left with a life-long injury and has been unable to return to work as a result of an incident which could easily have been avoided.
“There should have been suitable guards and safety devices fitted to the machine to make it impossible for employees to gain access to the dangerous cutting tool while it was in operation.
“Mrs Schoelzel is one of thousands of factory workers in Great Britain who suffered a major injury while at work last year. Employers need to act now to prevent more of these kinds of incidents happening in future.”
On average, 34 workers are killed and nearly 5,000 suffer major injuries in the manufacturing industry in Great Britain every year. Information on preventing injuries is available at www.hse.gov.uk/manufacturing.