Engineering firm fined after worker injures hand in automatic lathe

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The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) has reiterated warnings about the dangers of applying emery cloth by hand to automatic lathes, after it fined a County Tyrone-based engineering company £25,000 in relation to serious injuries sustained by an employee.

Caledon Precision Engineering received the fine for breaching Article 4(1) of the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, following an incident on 10 October 2022 in which an employee seriously injured their hand while using emery cloth at an automatic lathe.

HSENI said the employee had applied the cloth by hand to remove rust from a metal component which had been placed into the lathe. The lathe had been operating with the doors open, the investigation found.

Photograph: iStock/Robert Moore

Emery cloth is a type of sandpaper used to polish metal components when they are held in a lathe’s rotating chuck jaws. HSENI guidance states that it is “never acceptable” to apply emery cloth directly by hand on a metalworking machine.

Instead, for external work the cloth should be formed into a loop and clamped into a holding device attached to a tool post. For internal work, the cloth should be wrapped around a holding device which is held in a boring bar holder in the tool post.

Gloves should not be worn because they increase the risk of entanglement. A full list of HSENI guidance on how to safely use emery cloth can be found here.

“Employers have a legal duty to ensure employees and others are not put at risk from unguarded machinery,” said HSENI inspector Gavin Rowan. “Serious incidents involving the use of emery cloth at metalworking lathes are common and result in injuries such as broken bones, dislocations and amputations.” 


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