The plumber was undertaking a task of unblocking a sink at Edinburgh Airport but was having no success. He decided to purchase a drain cleaning chemical and applied it to the blocked drain; however as he was using it the chemical leaked onto the floor where he was kneeling. It soaked into his trousers and the next day he realised his leg had been badly burned by the chemical and he subsequently spent nine days in a specialist burns unit. He received skin grafts and required aftercare for months afterwards.
An investigation identified that no COSHH assessment had been completed nor did his employer have any procedures in place for controlling the purchase and use of hazardous substances by employees. The mans employer pleaded guilty to COSHH failings. In court, Linaker Ltd was fined £12,000.
This case demonstrates the importance of making sure employees cannot just go off and purchase a substance; because the responsibility for control remains with the employer. Some might argue this is grossly unfair and that the plumber should have looked into what he was using and taken suitable precautions. The problem here (in my experience) often comes down to the lack or poor quality of the training that employers provide to their employees when it comes to hazardous substances.
As I have said in previous blogs my findings are that 90% of workers really don’t appreciate the risks of the chemicals they are working with. Clearly, a drain unblocking substance is going to have to be a very aggressive chemical yet because it’s sold over the counter, people tend to not to see the risks.
I would urge you to look at what is being used in your workplace; check to see if your workers understand what could go wrong and ensure suitable controls are in place. Above all, make sure that no one can purchase hazardous substances without being authorised to do so.