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August 17, 2010

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Multiple failings left workers exposed to high levels of lead

A sheet-metal manufacturing company and its director have appeared in front of magistrates after workers were exposed to high levels of lead at its factory in Norfolk.

Environmental health officers from Norwich City Council were carrying out annual safety checks in November 2008 at Anglia Lead Ltd’s facility in the city. On discovering that workers at the site might be being exposed to dangerous levels of lead, the council contacted the HSE, which sent an inspector to the site on 13 November 2008.

The inspector found staff at the site were being exposed as they cast molten lead in lead sheeting, which was being sold for various uses, including as a roofing material for old buildings. The crucible, where the lead was being melted, was not suitably enclosed and the fumes were not being properly extracted.

Inspector Julie Jarvey revealed that staff had not been issued with suitable RPE and had only been provided with dusk masks, which were not a suitable means of respiratory protection. They had been provided with overalls but these were not being worn correctly and left parts of their body exposed. Gloves had also been provided but many workers did not wear them.

There was a changing area provided with washing facilities but the inspector found that staff were allowed to walk through this area and congregate in an adjacent kitchen without removing their overalls. Workers who did remove their overalls left them in a collection bin in the changing area, but these were to be cleaned in a washing machine that had been placed in the kitchen.

The investigation also found that staff were not provided with hygiene instructions to give advice on how to clean their hands properly. The company had put in place monitoring procedures to check employees’ blood contamination levels for lead. But when a number of staff tested positive for being above recommended safe contamination levels, no proper investigation for the cause of the contamination was carried out.

An Improvement Notice was issued against the company on the day of the inspection, which required it to carry out a risk assessment and introduce adequate control measures to protect staff from being exposed.
Inspector Jarvey said: “Exposure to lead is very serious and can be damaging to health. Lead is classified as a substance hazardous to health for good reason – when the dust or fumes are ingested, or inhaled it can lead to long-term ill-health effects.
“Anglia Lead Ltd and its director failed to discharge their duties, meaning the company’s processes fell significantly below the expected standards required for working with the material.

Anglia Lead appeared at Norwich Magistrates’ Court on 5 August and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £10,556 in costs.

Company director, Carlton Edwards, appeared at the same hearing and pleaded guilty to the same offence in his capacity as a company director. He was also fined £10,000.

The company had no previous convictions and entered an early guilty plea. It has complied with the Improvement Notice and has subsequently provided adequate PPE, training, and supervision to staff. It has moved the washing machine into the changing area, and now monitors the area to ensure workers aren’t contaminating clean areas. It has also modified the crucible to ensure fumes are properly extracted.

In 2003 Edwards was prosecuted in his role as owner of CEL Lead Works for non-compliance with an Improvement Notice, which required him to carry out a risk assessment after the company’s Peterborough facility fell short in hygiene standards. He was fined £8000 and ordered to pay £5000 in costs.

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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Ian
Ian
13 years ago

A similar second offence for the Director within a 5 year period. £13k penalty for the 1st and a lesser £10k penalty for the 2nd. When are the courts going to get tough with people who continue to ignore legislation and the known ill effects to the individuals health.

Ken
Ken
13 years ago

Given the history, I would have expected Mr Edwards to have been disqualified from being a Company Director. At least the first prosecution (2003) appears to have taught him to comply with an Enforcement Notice. Maybe this prosecution will have taught him to comply with the laws that exist to protect his employees health and/or safety.

I guess some people are just slow learners!