Safety of Pinsetter/Pinspotter Machines in Bowling Centres

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Pinspotters or Pinsetters, as they may variously be called, are machinery used to automatically set and clear free-standing pins in ten pin bowling centres. Traditionally these machines have had very little guarding and tragically in 2006 a machine attendant sustained fatal injuries when he was trapped inside a pinspotter. The public may also be at risk of significant or fatal injury because many installations remain unguarded.

What you must do if you operate a bowling centre?

You must ensure that pinspotter / pinsetter machines can be safely used, cleaned and maintained by operators tending the machines, and are safe for the public coming into the centres in which they are located. This may mean, if you have not already done so, upgrading these machines with a package of physical safety measures to prevent contact with dangerous parts and falls from a height, as well as ensuring staff are well trained, supervised, and following safe systems of work at all times.

All new pinspotter / pinsetter machines should comply fully with the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008 that is come with a full safety package, be safe accompanied by a Declaration of Conformity and have appropriate conformity marking.

And from November 2008, when HSE wrote to known UK suppliers, all second-hand pinspotters / pinsetters should have been supplied in a similarly safe condition, so far as reasonably practicable, including those machines imported from outside the UK.

But there are many older machines still in situ which were never supplied safe, even when CE marked, or before 1995 to the long standing provisions of Section 6 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (some even pre-date the 1974 Act). It is thought that many of these older pinspotter / pinsetter machines remain unsafe and do not yet meet the requirements of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER), nor the Work at Height Regulations.

To ensure adequate compliance of existing machines with current health and safety law operators of bowling centres should:

Effective health and safety is usually delivered by an integrated package of measures taking account of the hardware (guarding etc), the systems (for intervention, such as isolation) and human factors (understanding what goes on and how to minimise non-compliances). These measures do not sit in isolation of each other and should be considered together in the assessment and management of risk.

Although a user may choose to adopt any off-the-shelf physical upgrade solution which may be available from the machine or other suppliers, there is no obligation to do so. Users are free to implement their own safety strategy, sourcing expertise and / or equipment from wherever they like, provided they meet their basic minimum legal obligations for safety. Accordingly technical information and details of relevant standards are provided to assist. However it is recognised that many centres will not have the in-house technical knowledge or expertise to undertake such upgrade work and will have to rely on the manufacturers or other specialist bowling machinery suppliers / refurbishers.

What must I do if I supply or refurbish pinspotters / pinsetters?

Persons refurbishing existing or supplying second-hand pinspotters / pinsetters should also take account of the technical information to meet their obligations under Sections 3 and 6 of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974, whether or not the original machine was CE marked (as many such machines were not originally supplied safe or in conformity with the Machinery Directive).

Furthermore, second-hand machines which are being placed on the GB market for the first time (ie imports from outside the GB), must also be brought into full conformity with the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008, that means fully safeguarded and being supplied with a Declaration of Conformity, User Instructions, and appropriate conformity marking (as if a new product).

Background information

Pinspotter/pinsetter machines are usually installed in pairs, with a common ball return mechanism between "natural" or "unnatural" pairs, and there may be anything from 2 to 26 or more lanes in a bowling centre. Essentially the machine assembles and places ten "pins" upright onto the lane surface, registers the first bowled ball, sweeping away the fallen pins after picking up the remaining standing pins. The pins that were left standing are then replaced upright for the second ball to be bowled, and then all the pins and the balls are swept clear, the balls being returned via a recessed track to the front-of-house ball rack. An imaging system counts the numbers of standing and fallen pins, and the player's score is displayed along with that for the others in the game. Meanwhile the swept pins are automatically lifted in the machine, sorted and placed ready to be "spotted" by the table mechanism down on the lane for the next game.

Balls are bowled into the machine along a wooden "oiled" lane, commonly underneath a painted or printed "mask", a board just in front of the machine. Access down the lane from the public side cannot be restricted as players need to see their balls hitting the pins. In many cases the mask can be moved (hinged or moved vertically) permitting greater access to the front of the machine. Such access may be required for maintenance and other interventions to keep the machine running. In these circumstances the relevant lanes are often obstructed by a wooden barrier manually placed across the lane to protect the those undertaking maintenance from any stray balls.

Most maintenance and breakdown interventions are undertaken largely out of sight of the public by bowling centre staff accessing the machines from an alleyway running along the back of the machines.

For almost 50 years centre staff working with these machines, both for dealing with in-game blockages/miss-feeds, and routinely for cleaning and other maintenance, have traditionally relied on safe systems of work alone for safety, because of the lack of effective physical safeguards provided with the original machine. Unfortunately both in the UK and in Europe there have in recent years been a number of fatal and serious injuries because of the lack of adequate safeguards on these machines. Public access to the machines is also possible down the lanes and needs to be managed to avoid serious or fatal injury.

Safety kits and other upgrade options are now available from the OEMs and specialist pinspotter / pinsetter suppliers which can bring these machines into reasonable compliance with PUWER and the Work at Height Regulations.

Updated: 2021-11-10