A Warwickshire manufacturer of car components has been heavily fined after a worker was seriously injured in an accident at work.
The worker – who did not wish to be named for personal reasons – was working at Grupo Antolin Leamington Limited when the accident occurred in January 2012.
The worker was working on a spray line as part of a process for manufacturing car headliners (part of a car roof’s interior). The headliners are made up of a number of components which are glued together as they pass along the conveyer belt, with adhesive being applied as they move through a spray machine. This spray machine contains a solution of caustic soda, which is used to soften the adhesive that builds up on the conveyer belt as the parts are sprayed.
In order to carry out his work, which involved lifting components from the conveyer as they left the spray machine, the worker was compelled to lean over the conveyer to lift the them off the line and then support them using his stomach to transport them to the next stage in the process. It is believed that when the worker lifted one or more of the components off the conveyer that his stomach came into contact with the caustic soda.
The worker noticed during his shift that his stomach had become irritated but believed that the discomfort he was experiencing was a muscle strain as a result of the unfamiliar work. It was only when he returned home that he discovered that the skin around his stomach had turned black. He visited hospital and water was applied to attempt to neutralise the alkali in the caustic soda but this was not sufficient to prevent extensive damage to the skin on the worker’s stomach and he subsequently required a number of skin grafts to attempt to repair the damage. It is not currently known whether the worker has made a claim for personal injury after his accident.
A Health and Safety Executive investigation was subsequently commenced into the accident and the HSE investigation found that there had been the following potential health and safety breaches:
- A failure to put in place controls to prevent staff from coming into contact with the caustic soda
- A failure to provide suitable personal protective equipment (the worker had only been provided with a plastic apron whereas equipment was needed to protect him from chemicals)
The HSE therefore recommended that the company be prosecuted for breaching health and safety regulations.
The case came before the Nuneaton Magistrates’ Court on 14 October 2013. Grupo Antolin Leamington Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 7(1) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and was fined £12,000 and was also ordered to pay the prosecution’s costs of £9,900.
Neither the company nor their criminal defence solicitors appear to have commented after the sentencing.
HSE inspector Mark Austin said: “Grupo Antolin Leamington Limited has since installed barriers on the machine to prevent staff leaning over and coming into contact with the chemical and now also provides operators on that spray line with chemical resistant aprons. It is unfortunate a man had to suffer severe burns which left him in considerable pain some 12 months after the incident, for this to happen”.
Redmans Solicitors are employment law solicitors based in London