Employers have been urged to have all machinery bought second-hand inspected, after a 29-year-old man was killed operating a screener machine bought on eBay.
A routine safety inspection could have prevented the death of James Criddle, who suffocated when his clothes became caught in the machine, which was missing its safety guards, in May 2017. His employer, Robert Baldwin, of Baldwin Skip Hire in Norfolk, was cleared by a jury at Norwich Crown Court of manslaughter, but found guilty at Norwich Crown Court of neglect in failing to discharge a duty.
Gavin Dearsley, Risk Management Advisor at Alan Boswell Risk Management (ABRM), said the tragic accident was entirely avoidable had the correct health and safety procedures been followed. “Sadly, accidents like this happen more regularly than they should,” he added.
“Financial pressures in the business world often lead to companies trying to find ways of saving money by buying machinery that isn’t new, and therefore not built to modern design standards. As we’ve seen, the implications of that, and of then not having a health and safety inspection, can lead to tragic consequences.”
Mr Criddle was operating the £18,000 screener machine, which sorts material of different sizes and includes a cylindrical drum, when the absence of safety guards caused his clothes to become caught. He died from suffocation, just five days after the machine had been brought to the skip hire site. In his defence, Baldwin said it was “not obvious” that the machine was missing vital safety equipment.
Make sure your equipment is safe
But that misses the point, as under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) – the UK implementation of the European Work Equipment Directive – the law requires employers to ensure all equipment is safe for use, and that full training is given to employees. In other words, even if employers think second hand equipment looks safe, they have a legal duty to ensure that it is.
“For us, with a trained eye looking at it, it would have been obviously unsafe,” said Mr Dearsley. “It’s incredibly sad to see this because I know that if we had been out to see that machine before it was used we could have stopped it happening. There is obviously a cost involved, but you can’t put a price on someone’s life.”
Often they have no instruction manuals, no warranties, and they have issues, whether it’s missing guards or faulty e-stops on electrical machinery.
He added that, while the “gold standard” would be for engineering and manufacturing companies to only use modern equipment built to European standards and CE marked, such a scenario is economically unrealistic. “It’s completely unreasonable to expect everyone to be able to keep buying new equipment, so it’ll never happen, and you can get some really good second hand equipment that’s built fantastically well,” he said. “But the law requires employers to do a risk assessment of the machinery, and that’s where we can make a real difference.”
Costs for machinery risk assessments will vary depending on the number of machines and the time taken, but could be as little as a few hundred pounds.
Following an assessment, ABRM’s qualified risk advisors will provide a written report on any safety issues, together with a plan for making the machinery safe to use, and a training programme to be implemented if required.