The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is warning employers about working with dangerous substances without a proper health and safety assessment following the prosecution of the world’s largest clay brick and tile manufacturer.
Wienerberger Ltd, based in Cheshire, pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 following an incident on May 15, 2007 at its Todhills Works in Newfield, County Durham, which resulted in one of its employees being hospitalised. Bishop Auckland Magistrates’ Court imposed total fines of £2,000 and ordered £8,516 in costs to be paid.
HSE Inspector Fiona MacNeill who investigated the incident, said: “It is vital for companies to carry out risk assessments if their employees are to be exposed to hazardous substances. In this case, Wienerberger Ltd did not make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk posed by fumes and gases generated by cutting galvanised steel dryer trams using oxy-acetylene, nor did they adequately control that exposure. Fumes from hot cutting galvanised steel contain zinc and are particularly hazardous to people and can cause illness.”
Two employees were asked to do a ‘one-off’ job cutting up galvanised dryer trams using oxy-acetylene burning equipment. The trams are trolleys used to transport bricks through a dryer. However, Wienerberger Ltd neither carried out an assessment of the risks from metal fumes nor took steps to control any resultant exposure.
Both men received high exposures which led them to suffer symptoms of metal fume fever which are ‘flu-like’ and include coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue and pains in muscles and joints. Symptoms normally subside within 24 to 48 hours.