Sanding machine was not modified for school pupils

An 11-year-old pupil suffered serious injuries when his hand was trapped in a bench sanding machine during a class at a school in Solihull.

On 6 October last year, the boy was using the machine during a design and technology lesson at Alderbrook School. He was sanding the edges of a piece of acrylic material as part of a project to create a wind chime.

While he was using the machine, his left hand became trapped between the rotating face of the sanding disc and the machine’s table edge. He required specialist surgery to repair tendon damage to his fingers and was off school for several weeks owing to his injuries. He still suffers pain in cold weather and doesn’t have full range of movement in his fingers.

An HSE investigation found the machine had guarding in place, but it was designed for use by adults. The gap between the disc face and the table edge was 6mm, which was large enough to trap the student’s hand.

The company carried out a generic risk assessment when the machine was installed in 2000 but this failed to identify the potential entrapment hazard. The machine’s manual recommended the gap should be set to 1.5mm and the school failed to adapt the machine to make it safe for use by young students.

The HSE issued an Improvement Notice on 7 November last year, which required the school to put measures in place to prevent students from being able to access the dangerous area on the machine.

An HSE inspector said: “Health and safety management for design and technology within Alderbrook School was not of the expected standard. Guidance was out of date, risk assessments were generic, and concerns raised in a 2010 audit by Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council relating to this had not been addressed.

“This prosecution is not about schools abandoning or being stopped from allowing pupils to use machines. It is about sensible assessment of risk, given the age and maturity of school pupils.”

Alderbrook School appeared at Solihull Magistrates’ Court on 5 November and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £3500 and ordered to pay £5000 in costs.

In mitigation, the school said it had no previous safety convictions and cooperated with the enforcement notice by immediately removing the machine and another identical machine from use. It has subsequently purchased replacements, which have suitable guards in place.