Suspended prison sentence after inspectors discover ‘Dickensian working conditions’
The owner of a Nottinghamshire alloy firm has been handed a suspended prison sentence for failing to protect workers from the risks of lead poisoning after three employees became seriously ill. One of the workers was hospitalised for three weeks in May 2011 and continued to receive treatment for over a year. He was also off work for a year and can never work with lead again.
Brook Northey, 28, of Mansfield, required specialist treatment at the West Midlands Poisons Unit after working at LDB Light Alloys Ltd, owned by Mansfield businessman Laurence Brown.
Mr Northey had been working with his two colleagues at the Boughton-based company making lead sheeting from molten lead. His job was to scrape off the solid impurities, or dross, in a crucible containing the molten lead and pour the excess into containers.
Prior to being diagnosed with lead poisoning he had been admitted to hospital with renal problems.
A subsequent investigation by the HSE found conditions at Mr Brown’s company were so bad that a Prohibition Notice was served halting all work with immediate effect.
Nottingham Crown Court heard this week (4 February) that extraction systems, personal protective equipment, respiratory protection, hygiene and rest facilities were all unsatisfactory, and that no air monitoring or medical surveillance was provided.
HSE also established that lunch breaks were taken in an old, lead-contaminated caravan with no running water. Water was collected in contaminated plastic milk cartons from a contaminated hand washing area in the workshop. Clothes worn for work were not removed before eating and drinking and there was no toilet facility at the factory.
Staff had not been told about the effects of lead or how to recognise the symptoms of over-exposure.
Laurence Dennis Brown, 65, of Lime Grove, Forest Hill, Mansfield, was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for 18 months. He was also fined £45,000 and ordered to pay £35,000 towards costs after pleading guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
Sentencing Mr Brown, His Honour Judge Dickinson said: “It would take the skill of Charles Dickens to adequately describe the conditions in which your staff worked.”
Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Judith Sinnott said: “Overexposure to lead can have significant long and short-term effects on employees and their lives. Anyone working with lead must put systems in place to control the risks.
“Mr Brown was reckless in his attitude to the health of his employees. He had not controlled or assessed their exposure to lead or other substances by controlling them at source and had not provided suitable respiratory or personal protective equipment.
“He had allowed employees to eat and drink in contaminated areas and had failed to make them aware of the risks and symptoms they might have.”
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