Durham County Council fined after failing to protect safety of worker using wood chipper… A 25-year-old council worker lost his arm in a wood chipper machine after an accident occurred while he was cutting bushes in Spennymoor on 4 August 2009.
The man was putting branches into the mobile wood chipper when a part of his glove or vest got caught in the machine and his left arm was dragged towards the blades. His colleagues managed to shut the machine down when they became aware of the problem but by then the man had had his arm severed at the shoulder.
After the accident the man was transported by helicopter to James Cook University Hospital but surgeons were unable to save any part of his arm and could only treat the wound at his shoulder. The accident victim has struggled to cope since he lost his arm and has suffered mental anguish as well as the obvious physical handicap.
Darlington Magistrates’ Court was told that the HSE investigation into the accident had found that either the worker’s high visibility vest or his gloves had become entangled in the trimmings he was feeding into the wood chipper. This is a common and well-documented hazard that the risk assessment carried out by Durham County Council had failed to refer to. The Council had also neglected to follow published guidelines on safety protocols when using wood chippers.
The HSE Inspector Victoria Wise who investigated the case commented:
“This was a tragic but avoidable incident that resulted in a young man experiencing a traumatic loss.
“Anyone who has reason to use machines like this should take note of the harm they can cause. It is essential that the machine has the appropriate safeguards and is adequately maintained. Operators should have had the relevant training and be provided with the correct personal protective equipment.
“Specific health and safety guidance on the use of wood chippers was produced in April 2003 which clearly advises the use of non-snag outer clothing and gloves that are close fitting or tucked into the sleeves to stop them being caught on the material as it is fed into the chipper.
“This young man was lucky not to be killed as a result of this incident, which could have easily been avoided had Durham County Council followed this guidance.”
Durham County Council was fined £13,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,212.50 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
The HSE has reported that trimming or cutting down trees is a particularly dangerous line of work as there were 15 deaths and 80 serious injuries in this high risk activity in the UK between April 2006 and March 2011.