A joinery firm in Essex has been hit with a significant fine after a member of staff was seriously injured in an accident at its premises.
The unnamed employee was working for Specialist Joinery Projects and selecting 30 kg fibreboards to be cut down to size when the accident occurred in September last year. He removed three of the boards that were being stored vertically and were leaning against racking, but when he tried to remove a fourth, 15 of them toppled over on top of him.
The worker was trapped under the boards on a concrete floor for several minutes and suffered a gash to his head, as well as a broken collarbone, five broken ribs and two collapsed lungs.
He was treated in hospital for a fortnight but was unable to return to return to work for another four months. When he did get back to work at the beginning of 2014, he was limited to performing light duties.
Work Accident Investigation
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) carried out a work accident investigation into the causes of the accident and concluded that Specialist Joinery Projects did not do enough to prevent the MDF boards from toppling over on top of the injured employee.
Inspectors stated that the fibreboards had not been racked or secured, while the total weight of the boards that fell on the employee was estimated to be approximately half a tonne.
Specialist Joinery Projects was therefore prosecuted at Basildon Magistrates' Court, where it pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 10(4) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.
This states that employers must make sure materials and objects are "stored in such a way as to prevent risk to any person arising from the collapse, overturning or unintended movement of such materials or objects".
The company was ordered to pay a fine of £10,000, plus nearly £600 in costs.
Control Measures Should Have Been in Place
The HSE was highly critical of Specialist Joinery Projects after the hearing and insisted that the accident could have been avoided.
Kim Tichias, an inspector at the watchdog, commented, "Simple and relatively inexpensive control measures, such as racking, would have prevented this accident and the serious injuries incurred by this worker."
She stated that the company should have made sure the MDF boarding was secure and that a safe process for using and handling it was in place for members of staff to follow. Ms Tichias went on to stress that the risks from falling timber and board material are well-known in the woodworking sector.
She added that there have been a number of cases in the last few years in which poorly stored and unsecured boards have fallen on employees. Some of these, she stated, have resulted in fatalities.
According to statistics from the HSE, the woodworking industry is one of the most dangerous parts of the wider manufacturing sector.
In fact, the major accident rate is nearly one-fifth above the average, with the majority of workplace injuries being caused by slips, trips and handling accidents.
Moving machinery is also a common cause of accidents in the woodworking industry, as these accounted for a quarter of all major cases last year, including two fatalities.