South West Wales

Neath Port Talbot Recycling fined £90,000 after worker loses arm

Shredder at Neath Port Talbot Recycling Ltd
Image caption The accident happened when Mr John was asked to clean a conveyor belt that had become sticky

A recycling firm has been fined £90,000 after an employee lost an arm in an accident which was "waiting to happen".

Neath Port Talbot Recycling Ltd was also ordered to pay £50,000 costs following the incident in 2011.

Swansea Crown court heard a similar incident happened in 2007 and over the following years the firm had been warned about its health and safety measures.

The company said it deeply regretted what happened to employee Stephen John.

The court was told how the 57-year-old was asked to clean a conveyor belt which had become blocked with a sticky black substance known as flack.

The company did not have any risk assessment or safe system of work for completing this task, and experienced employees like Mr John had developed their own way of cleaning the conveyor belt roller.

This system of work was devised partly because the control switch was located some distance away from the actual conveyor.

To clean the rollers, one employee stood by the control switch, which is out of sight from the conveyor, and a second person inserted a bar and scraped the flack from the roller. He then inserted his arm to wipe away the flack.

A command was given to the switch controller and the conveyor was started and stopped quickly. The process was repeated until the roller was clean.

Death risk

The court heard on the day of the incident, Mr John inserted his arm and was wiping the flack away. He then passed the bar to a work colleague. The switch controller misinterpreted this as a signal and started the conveyor.

Mr John's right forearm was trapped and amputated by the conveyor belt.

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Media captionCompany director Will Watson said he was confident there would be 'no repeat' of the incident

Speaking after the hearing, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Sarah Baldwin-Jones said the potential for greater harm or a fatal accident was also a realistic possibility.

"The company failed to fully guard the conveyor around the tail end roller and this failure resulted in employees having access to dangerous parts of the machine," she said.

"The risk of entrapment is well known in the industry, and this company could have taken simple steps to fit guarding.

"There was also no line of sight between Mr John and the employee operating the machinery and the company failed to carry out a risk assessment when the conveyor was installed.

"They also failed to devise a safe way of cleaning the rollers and to instruct employees on how to clean them safely."

Neath Port Talbot Recycling of Crymlyn Burrows, Swansea, pleaded guilty to two safety breaches.

Managing director Will Watson told BBC Wales the company deeply regretted what had happened and that issues at the plant had now been addressed.

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