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May 6, 2011

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Firm’s electrics the worst HSE inspector had ever seen

A company in Oldham has been convicted for continuing to put workers lives at risk by failing to comply with enforcement notices.

Townfield Manufacturing Co Ltd, which manufactures kitchen equipment for takeaway restaurants, was prosecuted by the HSE after inspectors found fixed electrical sockets and a number of portable electric appliances were in a poor state of repair at the firm’s office in Mount Pleasant Street, Oldham.

The HSE visited the site on 15 December 2009, after receiving a complaint from an employee of a neighbouring business, which believed gas fittings in the office weren’t in a safe condition. The HSE found that the gas equipment was safe, but noticed a portable transformer unit in the office, which had its earth wire detached. It also identified a number of other electrical appliances that had cracked plugs, and other plugs that had two leads coming out of them, rather than one. There were also wall sockets that had earth wires exposed.

During the same visit, inspectors also found that staff at the company were forced to work in gloves, scarfs, hats and coats because of the near-freezing conditions in the workshop, which had no heating system. The workers were using power tools, and their clothing posed an entanglement risk.

The HSE immediately issued a Prohibition Notice, which required Townfield Manufacturing to repair all the faulty sockets and electrical appliances. It also issued an Improvement Notice that ordered the firm to provide adequate heating, so that staff were able to work in a safe working temperature.

Inspectors returned to the office five days after the compliance date for the enforcement notices, on 17 December, and found that the wall sockets were still unsafe and the company had only provided workers with one stand-alone heater, which had barely lifted the temperature.

The company refused to cooperate with the investigation and was convicted in its absence, following a trial at Trafford Magistrates’ Court in Sale on 5 May. It was found guilty of two breaches of s33(1)(g) of the HSWA 1974, by failing to comply with the Improvement Notices that had been issued. It was fined £5000 for each breach and ordered to pay £3979 towards the costs of the prosecution. In delivering its sentence the court described the firm’s actions as deliberate non-compliance for the sake of saving costs, which posed considerable risk to employees.

Following the hearing, HSE inspector Sarah Taylor said:  “This is one of the worst cases of dangerous electrics I have ever seen. The employees at this firm were at serious risk of injury, or even death.

“The temperature of the factory was also a serious issue. It is simply not acceptable to expect staff to work in conditions so cold that you can see your breath in the air. This is not only bad for their welfare but also potentially damaging for their health.

“Improvement Notices are not intended to serve as a suggestion. They need to be taken seriously and, if companies fail to comply with them, HSE will look to prosecute.”

The company has subsequently moved out of the premises and ceased trading.

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