A Birmingham automotive firm has been fined after one of its employees was struck by a manufacturing robot, leaving his voice box damaged and almost paralysing him down one side of his body.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Castle Bromwich-based Dura Automotive Body and Glass Systems UK yesterday (Wednesday) and the company was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 costs.

Birmingham Crown Court heard how, on 6 May 2008, the injured man, Michael Brewer, was struck while trying to repair a fully-automated industrial robot.

As part of the repair, Mr Brewer wanted to see the operating cycle of the machine. However, a solid guard fully enclosed the robot so he couldn’t see through it. Mr Brewer decided to view the robot from inside the guarded area while it was operating. While in this dangerous zone, the robot struck him in the throat, causing the damage to his voicebox and nerves on one side of his body.

The HSE investigation found the company had a system of work for accessing the machine that required the machine to be put in manual before entering, rather than on the full automatic cycle. However, this was not adequately supervised and failed to account for a need to view the operating cycle for the machine from outside.

Inspectors also learnt that viewing the operating cycle from inside the guarded area had become common practice. The risk assessment the company had produced was not sufficient as it had failed to address the risks from maintenance operations or the risks posed by the industrial robots operating within the guarded area.

Since the incident took place, the company has installed large viewing panels in the guarding of the machine so it can be viewed from the outside, as well as improving the access arrangements and the supervision of its systems. Mr Brewer, meanwhile, will not return to work because of his injuries.

Quoted on the HSE website, HSE inspector Edward Fryer said:

“This is a prime example of a company failing to address the risks relating to maintenance work.

“Maintenance personnel often have to work within the guarded area of machinery, sometimes in the face of significant production pressure. Safe access arrangements must be provided and these should be written into maintenance procedures and have full management commitment. If workers see their supervisors and managers violating procedures, as they did here, employees will feel that violations are condoned. There was a culture of violation in this factory and it is vey sad that it took an almost fatal accident for the company to identify this.”

He added: “Keeping the robot on the automatic cycle in these circumstances could very well have resulted in automatic death.”

Dura Automative were prosecuted for breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.