We have written blogs in the past about the lack of understanding of chemicals across most businesses and a recent case shows even the basic levels of knowledge are too often missing.
A Rochdale fabric firm has been fined £10,000 after an employee fell into a vat of bleach and suffered severe chemical burns over most of his body. Surely you would have thought the management at this business would have known the bleach causes burns!
PW Greenhalgh and Co Ltd was prosecuted by the HSE after an investigation into the incident at its factory at Newhey Bleach Works found there was not a safe system in place for using the bleaching equipment.
The court was told that a 47-year-old worker from Shaw had climbed onto the container on 3 June 2014 to try and free some cloth which had become entangled between mangle rollers.
As he did this, he slipped and fell into an open container of the corrosive solution used to bleach fabric. He suffered serious chemical burns to his lips, arms, chest, groin and legs as well as a large cut to his eyebrow and the bridge of his nose.
The worker was airlifted to Wythenshawe Burns Unit and he was off work for more than three months due to the extent of his injuries.
The HSE investigation found that PW Greenhalgh had not carried out a risk assessment for using the bleaching equipment. It was common practice for employees to climb onto the containers, which did not have lids, when the machine became jammed. Staff had also not received any specific training on working with hazardous substances.
Following a visit to the factory, HSE issued four enforcement notices relating to unsafe working practices.
The company has since carried out suitable risk assessments and implemented safe systems of work, using lids, handrails and fitting permanent stepladders to all the bleach containers.
PW Greenhalgh and Co Ltd, of Newhey, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £718 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
This case clearly shows the importance of undertaking suitable risk and COSHH assessments, had the business done this then the employee would not have suffered severe chemical burns. Expecting Workers to climb onto vats of bleach to clear blockages from the bleaching equipment was bad practice. The company had known employees were working with hazardous substances but it failed to take any action to tackle the risks.
The problem we find is that businesses fail to consider the ‘what ifs’ and don’t make the effort to train staff in COSHH awareness. Taking the time to get the risk assessments right and train the employees can prevent such incidents occurring.