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Acid dissolved plumber's PPE09 March 2011
A property maintenance company failed to provide a worker with adequate PPE or training prior to him receiving acid burns while unblocking a sink.
City Response Ltd was contracted to carry out maintenance work at properties owned by a housing association in Manchester. On 18 December 2009, it sent Neil Kelly, 52, to repair a blocked sink at a house in Heywood.
Mr Kelly used a plunger on the sink and then dismantled the pipework to check for a blockage. But this did not fix the problem so he poured sink unblocker fluid, which contained a high concentration of sulphuric acid, down the plughole. He then turned on the tap, and when the water mixed with the chemical, it caused an exothermic explosion. The acid hit the ceiling and rained down on him, burning through his paper overalls. He suffered burns to his face, chest and arms and was unable to return to work for two months owing to his injuries.
HSE inspector, Sarah Taylor, told SHP that Mr Kelly should have been provided with PVC acid-resistant clothing. She also explained that he hadn’t been trained how to use the acid and that only a small amount of water should have been added to the chemical in order to prevent it from reacting. She said: “City Response allowed one of its employees to use dangerous chemicals without anyone making sure he was working safely. As a result, he suffered severe acid burns to his face and body.
“The company should have made sure he used appropriate protective clothing, instead of the paper overalls, which were dissolved by the acid. He should also have received training on using the chemical.
“Property maintenance firms must carry out regular checks on the work their employees are doing while they’re away from their normal base, especially if they’re expected to work with dangerous chemicals.”
City Response appeared at Trafford Magistrates’ Court on 3 March and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 7(1) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, for not adequately controlling the exposure of workers to hazardous chemicals. It was fined £5000 and ordered to pay £2965 in costs.
The firm mitigated that it had no previous convictions and said it has reviewed its safety controls. It has stopped using the acid and has provided its staff with adequate PPE and training.
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