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September 25, 2012

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Long-serving employee was drenched in corrosive chemical

A worker who had racked up nearly half a century of employment for a Tyneside electroplating company retired just months after an incident in which he suffered serious burns from a highly-caustic chemical.

Michael Reid, 66, of North Shields, was employed as an electroplater at DMI (UK) Ltd when the incident happened on 30 January 2011. Magistrates heard how, as part of an electroplating production process, the company used a stripping tank filled with a solution of sodium hydroxide at 5 per cent. Every couple of months, as part of maintenance, the tank had to be topped up with the chemical at 32-per-cent concentration.

The concentrated solution was pumped from a barrel into the tank, via a hose. But, rather than using a permanent fixing, such as a jubilee clip, the hose was attached to the pump with tape. While Mr Reid was topping up the tank, the hose disconnected from the pump and he was doused in the chemical.

He suffered serious burns to his legs and body and spent two weeks in hospital, where he underwent several skin grafts. Mr Reid had worked for the company since 1963 and retired in July 2011. He never returned to work following the incident.  

HSE inspector Shuna Rank explained to SHP that the company did not carry out a risk assessment of the procedure and, consequently, it did not have a safe system of work for checking hoses, or joints. She pointed out that Mr Reid had not been provided with a suitable work apron, which, had he been wearing, would have protected him, to some extent, from the spray.

The investigation also revealed that DMI (UK) had failed to provide sufficient training for Mr Reid and other employees in the handling of sodium hydroxide. Said inspector Rank: “Sodium hydroxide continues to burn when on the skin. Although Mr Reid changed his clothes, he didn’t shower and he didn’t go straight to hospital. It was only the next morning that he realised how serious his injuries were and he went to hospital.”

While his co-workers responded promptly to the incident by drenching Mr Reid in water, the company’s failure to train workers in the risks associated with the highly-corrosive chemical meant they, too, didn’t appreciate the severity of the incident, added the inspector.

Appearing before North Tyneside magistrates on 21 September, DMI (UK) Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974, for failing to provide a safe system of work for topping up the stripping tank. It was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £4081 in costs.

The company took immediate action following the incident to rewrite its work methods and provide suitable protective equipment. It also provided its workers with additional training on the risks associated with chemicals involved in electroplating.

Following the case, inspector Rank said: “This incident should never have happened. Had the hose been properly attached to the pump it would not have occurred and basic systems to check and maintain equipment could have prevented it.

“In addition, employees should have received training to ensure they were fully aware of the risks associated with handling concentrated sodium hydroxide.”

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Altea69
Altea69
9 years ago

“Could it be that the HSE investigators could not find sufficient evidence to support further charges, or just lazy?”

More often than not, the evidence to support a s2 charge is the same as to prove a breach of each individual regulation. A s2 charge allows the full circumstances to be put in a more understandable fashion than a blizzard of regulations each needing separate explanation. Plus, there isn’t usually much effect on the overall sentence handed down.

Bob
Bob
9 years ago

Mutiple COSHH breaches, PUWER Breaches, Possible PPE and FAW, yet the only charge is Sec 2. (surprise, surprise)

You have to say, given the abject failure of this company, the fine does not reflect the crime?

I hope the Civil Lawer is more clued up?

Bob
Bob
9 years ago

This is not essentially a management fault?

I beg to differ, if the offending tape had been used for the previous 5 years, the offence of negligence is surely further demonstrated.

As the designated duty holder, the employer generates the risk, therefore he /she is duty bound to control the risk AFARP.

Sticky tape is not reasonable or good management, in fact it is Piss Poor Practice.

I fail to understand your defence of the poor management of a forseeable risk?

Bob
Bob
9 years ago

Custom and practice are only permissible by the management.

They are either tolerent or ignorent of the risk.

Niether of which should be acceptable or permissable if adopting adequate risk control?

The IP had 50yrs experience? yet he was complicite in poor practice?

Why did he feel so inclined?

If he was unaware, or if he felt unable to effect change to poor practice/standards, was this not reflective of the overall poor management of H&S by the management?

Bob
Bob
9 years ago

Multiple breaches are often shown as corroborating factors in a breach of a duty of care where one is owed.

More easily established, and more ownerous to defend. A single breach needs to be virtually indefensible if it is to be brought to charge.

FFI will change all that, as they can investigate at leasure, and the duty holder will still incurr cost? regardless of out come.

Lazy? No. Pragmatic, yes. FFI will make pragmatism redundant.

12k is a low fine as any breach is liable to 20k.

Bob
Bob
9 years ago

I knew a good looking young women many years ago, she never wore a seat belt even when provided.

Her reason was that she had never had a crash.

She was subsequently hurled through a windscreen, her future was ruined in a flash.

Poor risk judgement is prolonged by the lack of significant incident over an extended period.

But shit happens. Reliance on luck is an overated control of risk.

We should challange poor perception of risk.

Defending the indefensible is nonsense?

Eetaylor
Eetaylor
9 years ago

Once again Bob you rightly highlight breaches of several pieces of legislation in your comments. With your experience in HSE (your comments on harnesses) can you tell us why the HSE do not bring multiple charges more often?

Could it be that the HSE investigators could not find sufficient evidence to support further charges, or just lazy?

The level of fine again is in the hands of the Magistrates Court, not the HSE. Perhaps the courts need to reflect more accurately expectations of the public.

Filberton
Filberton
9 years ago

I used to do a similar a job (including the stripping process) 40yrs ago for a different company. Even then (with the proper pumping equipment not just a bit of hose and tape) we had to wear waterproof overalls/chemical suit, gauntlet gloves, goggles, etc. etc. we also had a drench-shower adjacent to the tank. If they were getting it right in 1973 before HASWA then there is no excuse now. For once, I say, come on National Accident Helpline.. do your worst!

Kenpatrick
Kenpatrick
9 years ago

A catalogue of incompetency but as HSE say “Had the hose been properly attached to the pump it would not have occurred” That I can agree with but are HSE really advocating risk assessemnts of procedures to achieve the aim of hoses beeing checked to ensure they are properly connected.

Tony
Tony
9 years ago

Surely has this is a routine task one would have thought that a Work Instruction/Safe Operating Procedure would be in place which would have identifed the correct PPE the operator had to wear.
Further more the task should have been risk assessed to identify who could be harmed and how.

Trevor
Trevor
9 years ago

Custom and Practice is the mortal enemy of all Health and Safety regulations. The report did not mention how many times in the last 5 years the tape connecting the hose to the container was replaced because of wear and tear. This is not essentially a management fault, it is the operators’ who continued to top up in the time honoured way as it had worked for such a long time. A proper risk assessment would have helped but probably ignored.

Trevor
Trevor
9 years ago

Bob, I am not saying that the sticky tape is good practice I am just making the point that you can apply all of the H&S regs. available and the operator will still choose HIS or the EASIER method of doing the job because of Custom and Practice. If he gets hurt in the process then the big guns can be wheeled out and blame apportioned. Just walk around any building site for 15 minutes and count the variance in protective gear worn by the workers on site, irrespective of the site’s H&S induction.

Trevor
Trevor
9 years ago

Bob, You are ignoring the operator’s attitude to H&S it is obviously less intense than yours. If he had read the book you are quoting from he would STILL do it his own way because that it what he has done countless times. It is not Custom and Practice from the management’s end but from the operator’s end. Yes the management is at fault for not knowing everything that goes on in their business and Yes the operator was silly but it had worked many times before without incident.