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The Use of Emery Cloth on Metalworking Lathes

Every year there are serious accidents involving the use of emery cloth on metalworking lathes, resulting in injuries such as broken bones, dislocations, lacerations, amputations and occasionally death.

In Court

A UK manufacturer of brick products, Ibstock Brick Ltd, has been fined for safety breaches after a worker’s hand was entangled and wrapped around the rotating shaft on a lathe.

North Staffordshire Justice Centre heard how, on 28 February 2020, a maintenance engineer was in the process of polishing a rotating metal shaft in a manual lathe, applying emery cloth directly by hand and whilst wearing gloves. The emery cloth became entangled around the rotating shaft and dragged the engineer into the lathe resulting in his hand being severed in the machine. The engineer subsequently underwent surgical amputation below the elbow.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that there were failures in the arrangements and control measures for the task performed. The risk assessment in place was not suitable and sufficient in that it did not properly assess, or address entanglement risk associated with the direct manual application of emery cloth to the workpiece or the use of gloves.


Ibstock Brick Ltd of Audley Road, Newcastle under Lyme pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety Act 1974 and have been fined £530,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,548.20.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Marie-Louise Riley-Roberts said: “Those in control of work have a responsibility to assess risk and devise safe methods of working in which their employees should then be instructed and trained. If Ibstock Brick Ltd had, had effective managerial arrangements in place for the task undertaken and ensured their employees were following a safe system of work, based upon risk assessment, safe systems of work, supervision, information, instruction and training, then the life changing injuries sustained by this worker could have been prevented.

Further Assistance

The risks involved with applying emery cloth by hand on metalworking lathes are widely known and HSE industry guidance stipulates that handheld emery cloths should not be used on rotating machinery. This should be reflected in your risk assessment as there are now, readily available, lathe polishing attachments for both internal and external work.

If this alert has raised additional questions or you have a Health and Safety law issue you would like assistance with, please do not hesitate to contact us.


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