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June 17, 2009

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Dermatitis sufferers not protected from resin

A wind turbine-blade manufacturer has been fined after a number of its employees were diagnosed with occupational dermatitis.

Isle of Wight Magistrates’ Court heard that 13 workers at Vestas Blades UK Ltd’s factory on the island had been diagnosed with the condition between 2005 and 2007. Each of the workers had been routinely exposed to epoxy resins that were used during the manufacturing process.

The resins formed part of a gel coating, which was pumped on to a mould to form the outer surface of the blade. A team of workers spread the gel evenly with rollers before the liquid was able to cure. Tape was placed at the edge of the blades to prevent the gel from running, and to create a smooth finish. But the operators were put at risk as the substance often splashed, and many removed the contaminated tape without wearing the correct protective equipment.

HSE inspectors visited the factory in February 2007 and found that workers had not been provided with any face protection other than safety glasses. They also discovered that the firm was not monitoring its staff to ensure that they were wearing the safety equipment that had been issued. The company was served with an Improvement Notice in July 2007 for failing to put in place to sufficiently protect employees from dangerous substances.

Vestas Blades UK Ltd appeared in court on 16 June and pleaded guilty to reg.6 and reg.7 of the COSHH Regualtions 2007. It was fined £5000 for each offence and ordered to pay £25,000 towards costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous convictions and had fully complied with the HSE’s investigation. It has subsequently carried out a full risk assessment and issued staff with the correct protective equipment, and has introduced monitoring to ensure these products are worn. It has also added paper on to the edge the blades, so the contaminated tape can be rolled up inside, preventing workers from coming into contact with the resins.

HSE inspector Roger Upfold told SHP: “Employers using hazardous substances must adequately assess the risks and put in place a suitable package of measures to prevent — or where that is not reasonably practicable — control such exposure, so that workers do not suffer ill-health at work.  

“Employers must also effectively manage the risk through comprehensive management strategies, including adequate training and supervision, regularly reviewing actual practice, and taking action where necessary.

“In this instance, the company subsequently decided to add paper to the blades, which was a simple and effective change and greatly reduced the risk of contamination.”

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