11th January, 2022
Pinch point hazards are common in many workplaces, and especially in construction and manufacturing. A pinch might not sound too severe, but pinch points can cause life-changing injuries, and in the worst cases, they can be fatal. But what is a pinch point? And how can you spot these hazards?
Before you can spot a pinch point, you need to know what one is. In this blog post, we look at the two different pinch point types and how you can spot them.
But first, what is a pinch point?
The term pinch point is sometimes used to mean a bottleneck in a system or process. But that's not what a pinch point hazard is. In health and safety, the meaning is more literal. A pinch point is any point where it is possible for a body part to get caught (or "pinched").
A pinch point could be between two moving parts, or between a moving and stationary part, of an object or machine.
Pinch point injuries often affect hands, arms, feet and legs. When a finger gets caught in a closing hatch, that's a pinch point.
You might imagine a pinch not being too severe. But crushing injuries from pinch points can result in cuts, bruises, broken bones and even amputations. In many of the examples we are about to look at, the injuries are life-changing.
Pinch points can also include areas where the whole body can get caught between two moving parts, or a moving part and a stationary object or wall. Whole-body crushing injuries can be fatal or leave people disabled.
But because pinch points often get created during a work process, they can be hard to spot. You might not see them ahead of time. Let's look at some examples to help you more easily spot pinch points in your workplace.
Pinch points often happen between two moving objects or parts of a machine. These parts, like cogs, can move closer and closer together, often under mechanical or electrical power, so if you get caught, it's difficult to stop.
Example 1. A pulley system gets jammed. A person tries to free the chain, as the operator continues to hoist to try and force the pulley. The pulley jolts free and the person freeing the chain gets caught between the moving chain and pulley wheel.
Never access dangerous parts of moving machinery. Adequate guarding should be in place to prevent this. If accessing these sections is necessary, for example, during maintenance, it should never happen while the machine is running. Disconnect and isolate to remove the risk of accident restart while unguarded.
Example 2. A worker reaches into a machine to remove a build-up of waste materials to ensure smooth operation continues. With his hand out of sight, he misjudges the clearance. His finger gets caught between rotating shafts, pulling in his hand further.
Many pinch point hazards, like the one above, are easily preventable. Rather than manually clearing blockages, mechanical extraction and ventilation would reduce the need for access to moving parts.
Long hair, dangly jewellery and loose clothing can make pinch point hazards especially dangerous. They can get caught in the moving parts, dragging the person into the pinch point.
Example 3. This is a real example of what can happen when hair gets caught in a pinch point. This example resulted in life-changing injuries and trauma, plus prosecutions and a £460k+ fine for the business involved.
...on 30 June 2016, an agency worker had been working on a production line making parts for staircases when her hair caught on a rotating drive shaft, resulting in the loss of her full scalp, ears and one of her thumbs. She suffered severe physical and mental trauma and has undergone numerous reconstructive operations. She has been unable to return to work since the incident.
Pinch points can also occur between a moving and a stationary object. And it doesn't have to be mechanical either. Very often, pinch points can occur during manual activities.
Example 4. A worker is disposing of heavy items in a skip. As he drops an item into the skip, his finger gets caught between the item and the edge of the skip.*
*This example is a pinch point and one that I have personally witnessed. On removing his glove, the worker saw that the flesh of his finger had been taken off during the pinch. He later had to have the end of his finger amputated.
When two or more people are working together, it's easy to see how pinch points can get created. When you handle heavy loads together, if there's poor communication and one person puts down the load before the other, the additional uncontrolled weight could create a pinch point.
Being aware of other people working nearby, and staying alert to what they are doing, can help reduce the risk. You can avoid creating pinch points for other people in your work. And you can notice when pinch points occur in others work.
Example 5. Two workers are accessing a confined space via a hatch. The second worker goes to close the hatch once she is through, not noticing the first workers foot between the hinge gap.
This example sounds like it could lead to a nasty injury. A heavy hatch could mean severe crushing injuries to the first worker's foot. Hopefully, the worker notices the pinch point before it's too late!
Pay attention to the location of hands, feet and other people when you can't guard against pinch points.
But pinch points don't just affect hands and feet. Whole-body pinch points can cause fatal injuries, especially on construction and industrial sites, where people mix with large vehicles and machinery.
Example 6. A skip lorry driver is moving some overhanging waste from a loaded skip. The driver of a shovel loader assisting does not see the skip lorry driver, and using the bucket pins the driver to the skip lorry.
The above example is a real example that happened in Leicester in 2015. The skip lorry driver died as a result of chest crush injuries from the incident.
This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure to ensure that basic site controls and rules were being managed and enforced, such that pedestrians were not at risk from these large vehicles working in the area.
Pinch point hazards are common in many workplaces, and especially in construction and manufacturing. Examples include hatches, power presses, rollers, assembling machines, powered doors and covers, stacks of heavy items.
You might try and spot hazards in your workplace before you start a task or activity. But pinch points often won't occur until the work begins and movement starts.
Tasks like equipment maintenance, assembly work, hooking up trailers, and moving materials are at risk from pinch points.
You need to think ahead to spot them. Plan your work. Look for equipment with moving parts. Look for moving objects that come close to fixed objects.
Hopefully, you have been able to think of some pinch points that occur in your workplace. And maybe considered some ways you can protect people from this type of hazard.
You need people to be cautious and stay alert on your sites, and regular toolbox talks can help maintain a focus on health and safety. But this shouldn't be your only control against pinch points.
Where you notice pinch points on your sites, consider how you can control them. Can you stop people needing to enter those areas? Would fixed guards help? What site rules could you put in place to reduce the risks?
This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.
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