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September 22, 2008

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Teenager sustained serious cement burns

An Oxfordshire-based building company has appeared in the dock after a 16-year-old employee received severe chemical burns to his legs due to wet concrete in his boots.

O’Brien & McIntyre LLP was fined £500 and told to pay £150 towards the HSE’s costs of £1756 at Stratford-upon-Avon Magistrates’ Court on 11 September, after the company pleaded guilty to breaching reg.7(1) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.

The court heard that on 23 March 2007, the young man had been employed as a ground worker, digging trenches and laying foundations for a small housing development in Warwickshire. The concrete was poured and spread in the trenches using a type of rake, to give a level surface on which to build walls.

According to Tony Woodward, the HSE inspector who investigated and prosecuted the case, the young worker was in the trench, “paddling in the concrete”.

He added: “You don’t need a great deal of wet concrete for it to be absorbed into the clothing and held against the skin. Wellington boots aggravate that by holding the concrete against the skin. Cement is very alkaline, giving rise to chemical burns, which are not felt until the damage has been done.”

Mitigating, O’Brien & McIntyre said it was a small, caring company, whose boss had been working alongside the young man. The incident had occurred through oversight and lack of application.

According to inspector Woodward, the event was exacerbated by a lack of adequate welfare facilities while the men were working. “It is very important when working with any cement product to have running hot and cold water, soap and towels, since cold water alone will not wash cement away,” the inspector emphasised.

“Ground working is dirty, heavy labouring work, which is often badly paid. The ground workers had been allowed to use facilities across the road, but these had been locked on the day of the incident,” he continued.

“By law, adequate welfare facilities must be provided before any work begins, but it is unfortunately extremely common for developers to fail to provide them for ground workers until actual building commences.”

The inspector warned: “Fining a company is not necessarily the greatest punishment or deterrent but, particularly in the construction sector, a company competing for work that has to declare that it has been prosecuted for breaching health and safety legislation is very likely to have a distinct disadvantage over one with a clean record. Those placing contracts can check for prosecutions on the HSE website.”

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