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Excavator firm fined after worker's fingers severed

A worker had two fingers severed when his hand was caught in the drilling machine he was operating at one of the UK’s major producers of construction equipment.

John Watson, 55, from Wheatley Hill, County Durham, was drilling holes in steel plates at Komatsu UK, when his right hand became caught in the rotating parts of the machine.

Mr Watson needed surgery to completely amputate his third finger and the middle finger between the first and second knuckle. He also had a bone removed from his hand. Mr Watson has worked at Komatsu for nearly twenty years but has been unable to return to work since.

Consett Magistrates’ Court heard how a Health and Safety Executive investigation revealed that using the drill was not part of Mr Watson’s normal work but at the time of the incident he had been asked to make some storage racking for the factory.

The investigation found that at the time of the incident on 23 June 2009 there was no guard on the drill to prevent access to the rotating parts and it was not the first time the drill had been used without a guard.

The gloves that Mr Watson was wearing became entangled and drew his hand into the rotating parts. He had not received training in the use of the drill and the precautions needed to reduce the risk of entanglement.

Komatsu UK Ltd, of Durham Road, Birtley pleaded guilty of one breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,421.10.

HSE inspector Zoe Feather said:  “This was an entirely preventable incident that has left Mr Watson with permanent injuries. The risks from drilling machines are well known. If a suitable guard had been fitted to the machine Mr Watson could not have become entangled.

“Also, the wearing of gloves greatly increased the risk of entanglement and was likely to have contributed to the severity of Mr Watson’s injuries. The increased risk from the wearing of gloves at drilling machines is well documented.

“It is vital employers give their workers the necessary information, instruction and training in order that they understand the risks in using drilling machines and how to operate them safely.”

Komatsu is a leading supplier of excavators to the construction industry.

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