08 Jun 2016

PROTECTING OPERATORS FROM BANDSAW ACCIDENTS

According to the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), every year the meat industry typically reports over 200 major injuries and more than 1,000 other reportable injuries to employees. Bearing in mind the under-reporting which, sadly, is known to exist, these statistics at the very least confirm that there are serious safety issues that still need to be addressed.

There are several factors that are the most common causes of safety risks across all manufacturing and not just the meat industry. For employers, the identification of significant risks and priorities is vitally important in meeting the ever-increasing legal requirements being put in place to protect workers from injury and to preserve their health and safety. Specific issues such as slips, trips and falls, injuries from operating equipment and health issues are commonly the result of failings by employees and employers alike. One obvious threat to many workers is the close proximity in which they often find themselves to dangerous machinery when they are going about their work or carrying out their jobs at a particular workstation that requires close concentration and the very strictest adhesion to operating guidelines. In the meat industry, such machinery is often found in abattoirs, including the bandsaw, potentially one of the most dangerous, which has led to companies in recent years being challenged to move away from using them. However, there are various cuts of meat that cannot be achieved without a bandsaw, so rather than taking them out of the equation, there should be a focus on developments designed to ensure safer operation. As stated on the BMPA website – “…where this (the method of cutting the product) has been assessed…consideration must be given to the work being carried out.”

Bandsaws in general, but particularly those where a section of the moving blade is totally exposed, can present a really high risk of injury by their very operation if either not installed or operated appropriately. With thousands of conventional commercial machines of this sort in daily operation in the meat processing industry around the world, evidence suggests their use can potentially result in serious injuries for the many operators using them. Such machines have barely changed since they were first introduced, apart from the various guards and shields introduced to protect the operator. Available in a range of sizes for different cutting purposes, bandsaws basically all comprise a very fast, very sharp, moving blade that is enclosed by the body of the motor that drives it but exposed when passing through a cutting table or roller bed, upon which the meat being processed is placed and cut. They cut frozen meat in particular very efficiently and much more efficiently than fresh meat that tends to drag through the saw’s blade. The obvious hazard, which is immediately apparent to anyone who has seen and heard a bandsaw in operation, is contact with the fast-moving blade. A common cause of accidents within the meat industry, the list of injuries usually includes nasty, deep cuts to fingers and thumbs that might require surgical intervention and, unfortunately, sometimes part or full amputation. However, with Interfood Butchery Ltd operating as the sole distributor of BladeStop™ in the UK and Ireland, meat processors can now take steps to minimise the risk of serious injury to the operators of bandsaws.

BladeStop™ is designed to address the safety issues relating to bandsaws and the potential for serious injury that traditional bandsaws present.  The BMPA website states – “There is a device available now which senses the operative and stops the saw in 15 milliseconds on contact.”  This is BladeStop™, a system designed and manufactured by Australian based company Scott Automation & Robotics working with Meat & Livestock Australia.  It works by stopping the bandsaw blade within a fraction of a second when the unit senses that a person has come into contact with the blade - or is even dangerously near to it.  Available with two different sensing modes, the system is able to bring the cutting blade to a complete stop in no more than 0.015 seconds.  Both versions significantly minimise the severity of any incident – potentially making the difference between just a small cut to the skin and a severed digit.

The BladeStop™ system is already well established throughout Australasia and hundreds more have been sold all around the world since its introduction in 2014, including in the UK and Ireland through Interfood.

Recently, Interfood’s Butchery Division also saw the addition of the Astech SRA automatic in-line bandsaw, extending the range of equipment that the company is able to offer this sector of the industry. The flagship product of the Astech range is the SRA automatic bandsaw system, the original piece of patented equipment with which Astech launched. This new partnership with the Spain-based manufacturer brings a further focus on the safe cutting of products through commercial bandsaws, along with excellent cut quality and increased throughput, which is significantly higher on the Astech SRA than many other bandsaws on the market - with a single operator being able to cut up to 8 lamb loins or 5 lamb legs simultaneously.

Richard Nethercot

Group Divisional Manager – Low Risk