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September 22, 2008

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Firm used blast substance banned for almost 60 years

A sandblasting company has been prosecuted after failing to stop using sand containing free silica, the use of which has been prohibited since 1950.

Hyndburn magistrates heard on 15 September that following a complaint from a member of the public, HSE inspectors visited the premises of Andrew Thomson, trading as Thomson Sandblast, in Great Harwood, near Blackburn, on 29 June 2006.

The inspection revealed that dry blasting of vehicles with silica sand was taking place. Rosemary Leese-Weller, the inspector who investigated the case, told SHP the premises had no filtered extraction system, the protective respiratory equipment was not being maintained, and the premises were “pretty awful” in general.

Samples of the blasting material revealed that it contained more than 80-per-cent free silica, a substance that can fracture during blasting and become respirable. It may cause silicosis, a serious disease similar to asbestosis, with a comparable outcome of chronic lung disease or lung cancer.

“Silicosis is a very nasty disease,” the inspector said. “It is progressive, irreversible and can continue to develop after exposure.”

A Prohibition Notice (PN) was served prohibiting sandblasting without adequate respiratory protection equipment. Improvement Notices (INs) were also served for failure to maintain respiratory protection equipment, and failure to provide suitable facilities for eating and drinking, or engineering control measures.

On a subsequent visit to the premises on 6 February 2007, inspectors found that conditions had not changed and the enforcement notices had not been complied with. A further PN was served.

Thomson said in mitigation that he has now made improvements to the method of work, although the inspector pointed out that he had not produced any evidence to show what these improvements were. He now uses silica-free abrasive.

In passing sentence, the magistrates said they considered the breaches to be “intentional” and Thomson “negligent”, and had potentially caused great harm to his employees – so much so, they considered a custodial sentence of up to six months.

Thomson pleaded guilty to six breaches:

• s2(1) of HSWA 1974 – failure to ensure the health of employees by controlling the use of abrasives containing free silica;

• s22 of HSWA 1974 – failure to comply with a PN;

• s21 of HSWA 1974 – failure to comply with an IN (two charges);

• reg.4(1) of COSHH 2002 by using a prohibited substance and failure to prevent exposure to it (two charges).

Thomson was fined a total of £26,000 and ordered to pay full HSE costs of £24,000, “a hefty penalty for an individual,” the inspector remarked. He was fined £13,000 for the breach of s2(1) of HSWA, and £13,000 for breaching a PN under s22 of the same Act. No further penalties were awarded for the other breaches.”

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