Neath Port Talbot recycling has been fined £90,000 and £50,000 in costs after an employee lost an arm in an accident back in 2011.

Swansea Crown Court heard how 57-year-old Stephen John was asked to clean a conveyor belt which had become blocked with flack – a sticky black substance. The company did not have a risk assessment or safe system of work for the task, and employees had developed their own way of cleaning the belt roller. With the control switch located away from the actual conveyor, one employee stood by the switch and a second inserted a bar and scraped the flack from the roller. He then inserted his arm to wipe the flack away. A command was then given to the switch controller, and the conveyor started and stopped quickly. This process was repeated until the roller was clean.

However, on the day of the incident Mr John inserted his arm to wipe the flack away and passed the bar to a work colleague. The switch controller misinterpreted this as a signal and started the conveyor. Mr John's right arm was trapped and amputated.

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

She continued, “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.”

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