A vape liquid manufacturing company in Manchester has been fined after a worker lost two fingers and a thumb while clearing a blockage in a packaging machine.
The agency worker at VN Labs Ltd was operating a nicotine liquid pod packaging machine at the firm’s premises on Beacon Road, Trafford Park, when it became blocked on 22 October 2020.
While removing the plastic that was causing the blockage, the machine’s blade was freed and sliced the worker’s right hand.
This led to the amputation of two of the worker’s fingers (index and middle) and thumb on his right hand after it became apparent they could not be reattached.
The 43-year-old man, who lives in Manchester, has been unable to work since the incident, now struggles carrying out everyday tasks and has suffered from mental health difficulties as a result of his injuries.
He said in his victim personal statement: “The accident has had an impact on my daily activities because from day one until now I did not have a day without pain. My mind has completely changed. I can’t do simple tasks such as prepare eggs for my children. I used to enjoy hobbies like judo, jujitsu and climbing.
“My mental health has suffered because of the accident and is not regular like it was before, there is a lot of instability. I have good days and bad days. My financial situation has deteriorated and I feel like I have no control over anything. I can’t work and I have to delay all my bills including my rent. It was never like this before.”
A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the machine had recently been imported without any guarding. The engineering team at VN Labs assessed the machine and installed a see-through plastic guard over the top. Despite this, access to dangerous parts of the machine was still possible. There was also no formal written risk assessment for the blister pack machines. The company also failed to implement a safe system for clearing blockages and did not effectively supervise and monitor its working processes.
HSE guidance can be found at: Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) (hse.gov.uk)
VN Labs Limited, of Beacon Road, Trafford Park, Manchester, pleaded guilty to breaches of Section 2 (1) and 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company was fined £180,000 and ordered to pay £7,490.05 in costs at Manchester Magistrates’ Court on 16 June 2023.
HSE inspector Joseph Wright said: “This incident could so easily have been avoided. Employers should ensure they carry out an assessment of the risks and put in safe system of works for the operation of all machinery.
“Companies should recognise the need to ensure machinery is guarded to the standard of UK legislation even when imported from another country because they may have different laws around the standard of guarding.”
The absence of a risk assessment and appropriate safety protocols is a glaring oversight by the vape company. Safe Systems of Work and Risk Assessments and machine guarding are all important aspects of workplace and machine safety.
Undertaking a risk assessment is a crucial step in identifying potential hazards and implementing measures to prevent accidents and incidents. It involves identifying potential risks, evaluating their likelihood and severity and implementing controls to either eliminate hazards or mitigate the risks. In this case, the absence of a risk assessment indicates a failure on the part of the vape company to adequately address safety concerns and protect their workers.
The incident itself, involving the worker’s fingers being sliced off raises questions about the lack of adequate safety measures and training. Safety measures such as protective guards and prevention of access to moving machine parts should have been in place to prevent the accident which has had life changing effects on the worker who lost his fingers. Furthermore, employees should have received appropriate training on how to operate machinery safely and how to isolate the equipment prior to attempting to clear the blockage.
The consequences of this incident are significant to both the injured worker who has been unable to work since the accident as well as suffering ongoing mental health issues, whilst a damaged reputation, legal action, fines and no doubt low morale amongst the workers are some of the issues that are likely to be experienced by the vape company, as a result of their negligence, and this serves as a reminder to other companies to prioritise the safety and well-being of their employees.
It is essential for employers to understand that health and safety in the workplace is not an option but a legal obligation. Suitable and sufficient risk assessments, robust safety protocols, and appropriate training are necessary to prevent accidents and protect the health and well-being of workers. By failing to implement these measures, the vape company has demonstrated a lack of commitment to ensuring a safe working environment.
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