A 26-year old worker lost the fingers and thumb of his right hand as he operated a firewood processing machine at a farm at Hughley, Shropshire, in December last year. Surgeons reattached his thumb but could not reattach his fingers.

In order to straighten a log that had become twisted, he had put his hand inside the chute of the machine which features a hydraulic splitting ram which activated. The ram pushes logs onto a blade, and this pushed his hand through the blade along with the log.

Through HSE investigation it emerged that the accident victim had no previous experience of firewood processing machines and was inadequately trained and supervised, indeed he had been instructed to use the machine with the guard in the open position. The splitting control lever on the machine had previously been forced, permitting the machine to run with the splitting chute guard open, allowing the operator to reach the machine’s dangerous moving parts.

The farmer admitted breaching S.3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and r.5 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 for which Shrewsbury Magistrates fined him £14,000 in total plus £8,500 costs.

An HSE official commented: “A young man has been left with life-changing injuries, which are likely to cause permanent disability. Firewood processing machines are dangerous if they are not maintained properly and used safely. The defect on this machine was obvious and had been there for many months. Employers and individuals must make sure that firewood processors are suitably guarded and operators are fully trained and supervised so that they work to an agreed safe system of work.