Care group patients given dishwasher fluid to drink
A man with learning difficulties died and five others with disabilities suffered horrific internal injuries after a carer confused dishwasher fluid with orange squash and gave it to a group to drink on a council-organised trip.
The group of adults with learning difficulties were from St Nicholas Centre in Lewes and were on a visit to Plumpton Agricultural Collage to use its sporting facilities, when the incident took place on 7 December 2004. Their careers poured them a drink, which should have been orange squash but actually contained a chemical called sodium hydroxide. The chemical is used as dishwasher fluid at the care centre, and was stored in a container that was similar in appearance to that of an orange-squash bottle.
A member of staff had picked up the wrong bottle and when the adults drank the chemical they immediately became distressed, started vomiting blood, and began to have seizures. Colin Woods, 60, who suffered from Down’s Syndrome, died 17 months later owing to the internal injuries he suffered during the incident. Five other members of the group suffered burns to their mouths, throats and stomachs, and most had to undergo several surgeries. Three of them will never be able to swallow normally again.
The HSE’s investigation found that East Sussex County Council, which managed the Centre, had failed to ensure that the dishwasher fluid was safely locked away in the kitchen, when it was not in use. The HSE was unable to establish who had packed the wrong bottle for the trip as the staff were too traumatised by the incident to be interviewed.
HSE inspector, Andrew Cousins, said: ”The terrible thing is that this incident and its horrific consequences could so easily have been prevented by simply locking away the container of sodium hydroxide.
“Instead, Mr Woods died a slow, painful and unnecessary death and others have suffered terrible, preventable injuries – some painful and permanent – because the council failed in its responsibility to take proper care of them. It is imperative that authorities properly protect vulnerable people in their care.”
East Sussex County Council appeared at Lewes Crown Court on 4 April and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £50,000 and ordered to pa £27,670 in costs.
Inspector Cousins concluded: “This is one of the worst incidents I have investigated in all my time as a health and safety inspector. It is impossible to adequately imagine the suffering and terror that the victims must have felt as this tragedy unfolded.”
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