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November 9, 2010

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Company failed to assess risks of corrosive chemical

A West-Midlands company has admitted to failing to protect its employees after two young workers suffered chemical burns while cleaning an air-conditioning system.

Rugby Magistrates’ Court heard that Fretus Ltd was contracted to carry out a service on an air-conditioning unit at an office in Leamington Spa on 1 October 2009. The job was given to two teenage workers were began cleaning air-conditioning coils with a highly corrosive chemical.

Two hours into the job they complained to their supervisor that their hands were hurting. They were told to wash their hands and then complete the job. By the time they had finished the service, some five hours later, they had suffered burns and blisters to their hands. They went to hospital for treatment, where one of the workers remained for six days, while the other was released after two days.

Fretus reported the injuries to Warwick District Council under RIDDOR and the council began an investigation. The firm told investigators that its supplier had run out of the alcohol-based chemical, which it normally used to clean air-conditioning systems, and it had been provided with a replacement product for the work. The investigators found that the chemical was clearly labelled as containing ‘phosphoric and hydrofluoric acid’ but the company neither carried out a risk assessment on the use of the product nor warned its workers that they needed to wear protective gloves when using the chemical.

Fretus appeared in court on 4 November and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. Owing to the company’s financial situation, magistrates decided not to impose a fine but instead issued a 12-month conditional discharge. They also ordered the company to pay full costs of £4500.

In mitigation, Fretus argued that the prosecution was unnecessary as it had a previously exemplary health and safety record. Following the incident it acquired the services of a safety consultancy and carried out a risk assessment on every chemical that was in its possession. It now ensures that all its vans are provided with safety data sheets, which explain the dangers of each chemical and warn workers if PPE is required when using a product.

After the hearing, Warwick District Council portfolio holder of the environment, councillor Michael Coker, said: “It was clearly foreseeable that the use of this highly corrosive cleaner, without appropriate control measures, would result in serious injuries. This case clearly demonstrates that companies must ensure that hazardous substances are used safely.”

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Ashenergy
Ashenergy
10 years ago

Under Ken Clarke’s proposed changes to the legal system, these lads would soon be unlikely to be able to access Legal Aid to help them claim compensation should they need to.

Elloboda
Elloboda
10 years ago

I find it hard to understand why two teenage lads did not even ask for gloves in the first place or are we highlighting just how bad the company is. knowing that most chemicals we use to clean with on a day to day basis we use gloves let alone 2 to 4 hours of solid cleaning. somebody is paying that supervisor to make that decision. just goes to show some of england’s business that are out there young lads not even knowing or being shown the basics in health and safety. as for the courts.

Major
Major
10 years ago

Forget using lawyers to defend cases – just plead poverty and get away scot free.

Paul
Paul
10 years ago

Even if the magistrate was not prepared to fine the company due to financial restraints, the supervisor did not consider the safety of his employees and was in clear breach of sect 7 HSaWA. I feel the wrong message is being delivered in that due to the lack of financial security a company can ignore their H&S responsibillities. People, mangement, supervisors make up a company, lets focus on the people who can make a difference and penalise them when they ignore their responsibillities.