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September 14, 2009

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Inadequate PPE leads to worker contracting dermatitis

A factory worker has been left with permanent disabilities after contracting a severe form of dermatitis at his workplace.

Prysmian Cables and Systems Ltd was fined £27,500 and ordered to pay £10,700 costs, at Southampton Crown Court on 9 September. The firm pleaded guilty to breaching reg.6(1)(a), 7(1), and 7(3) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.

The court heard a workman had contracted dermatitis in October 2006 after being regularly exposed to a hazardous substance at the company’s factory in Eastleigh. The site produced high-voltage cables, which contained paper insulation that was soaked in dodecylbenzene (DDB) oil.

The worker was stationed on the factory’s production line, and cut sections out of the cables to carry out quality-control tests. But he was not provided with adequate PPE and the oil regularly came into contact with his skin, which caused him to suffer skin irritations across large parts of his body. As a result of the illness he has been left with permanent scarring and has to avoid contact with a large number of substances that cause further skin irritation. He has been unable to return to work and has been forced to retire on medical grounds at the age of 48.

The factory reported the incident to the HSE under RIDDOR immediately following the worker’s diagnosis. But owing to an administrative error by the HSE the case was overlooked and not investigated until 2008. Inspectors visited the site on 17 March 2008 and discovered that the factory hadn’t taken any steps to prevent other workers from coming into contact with the oil. Employees had been issued with protective aprons but the oil was able to run down into the workers’ footwear. The factory had also issued staff with protective gloves but it was not mandatory that these were worn.

The firm was issued with an Improvement Notice, which required it to provide suitable PPE, including a disposable chemical-resistant suit, gloves, and footwear.

HSE inspector, Anne Bartlett, said: “All employers should undertake risk assessments in a way that correctly identifies all of the significant risks, including those to health, and as a result, ensure that an appropriate package of measures – including physical safeguards, safe systems of work, protective clothing, consistent training and appropriate health surveillance – are provided for the safety of all workers.”

In mitigation, the firm told the court that it had fully complied with the terms of the Improvement Notice. It has subsequently closed down the factory but ensures that staff are provided with adequate PPE at its other sites.

Inspector Bartlett concluded: “This case illustrates the need for employers to take dermatitis risks as seriously as any other risks to health and safety in the workplace. Dermatitis is not just a ‘bit of a rash’, which can be ignored, but a painful, debilitating and, as this case proves, a life-changing condition, which can be easily avoided.”

 

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