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March 4, 2011

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Language-barrier oversight linked to toxic-gas discharge

Three agency workers were taken to hospital with breathing difficulties after a toxic gas was released inside a vegetable packaging factory following a chemical incident.

Spalding Magistrates’ Court heard that a Latvian agency worker at Emmett UK Ltd was cleaning food-processing machinery at the firm’s factory in Spalding, when the incident took place on 11 September 2009.

The worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, understood little English and accidently mixed two cleaning chemicals together, which reacted and produced a toxic gas. As he was cleaning the machinery, he and two other workers began to suffer breathing difficulties. The factory was evacuated and the men were taken to hospital for observation, before returning to work a few days later.

HSE inspector, Jo Anderson, revealed that the incident could have been avoided if the company had made the cleaner aware of the risks in his native language. She said: “This incident was entirely preventable had the company ensured that all agency workers were given adequate information, instruction and training.

“Our investigation also showed that there was almost no consideration given to the fact that some of the workers spoke very little English. As a direct result, three workers were taken to hospital for treatment and were lucky not to be more seriously harmed.”

Emmett UK appeared in court on 2 March and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 2 (1) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, for failing to provide an employee with suitable and sufficient information and training. It was fined £8500 and was also ordered to pay full costs of £2478.

Mitigating that it had no previous convictions, the company said it has subsequently reviewed its procedures and ensures that all instructions are translated to staff who don’t speak fluent English.

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