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Company fined after worker suffers severe burns

Date:
14 October 2013

A Warwickshire company which manufactures car components has been fined after a worker was burned by caustic soda while leaning over a conveyor.

The operative required skin grafts to his stomach as a result of the incident at Grupo Antolin Leamington Limited, at Tachbrook Park, near Leamington Spa, on 25 January 2012.

The company was prosecuted today (14 October) by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation identified safety failings.

Nuneaton Magistrates’ Court heard the man, from Leamington Spa, was working on a spray line as part of a process for manufacturing car headliners.

The headliners, which form part of a car’s roof interior, are made up of a number of layered components glued together to form a ‘sandwich’.  Adhesive is applied onto the individual layers as they pass through a sprayer machine on a conveyor.

The machine includes a reservoir containing a solution of caustic soda, also known as sodium hydroxide, which is used to soften the adhesive that builds up on the conveyor, allowing it to be scraped off more easily. 

The operative’s job required him to remove the components from the conveyor as they left the spray machine. However, the size and shape of the headliners meant that he and others had to lean over the conveyor to lift them off the line and then support them on their abdomen to transport them to the next part of the process. It was during this process the victim’s stomach came into contact with the caustic soda.

During his shift he experienced some irritation to his stomach, but assumed it was a muscle strain as a result of the unfamiliar work.  It was only later when he got home that he noticed his skin was black. He returned to work and informed his shift manager, who arranged for him to go to hospital where his skin was irrigated with water to neutralise the alkali. However, the damage sustained was substantial and he subsequently required skin grafts.

The HSE investigation found that the company had not put controls in place to prevent staff from coming into contact with the caustic soda. Although the worker had been given personal protective equipment, it was not suitable as it was only a disposable plastic apron rather than one designed to be used with chemicals.

Grupo Antolin Leamington Limited, of Tachbrook Park Drive, Leamington Spa, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 7(1) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 between 24 June 2010 and 25 January 2012. The company was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay costs of £9,900.

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Mark Austin said:

“Caustic soda is a highly corrosive substance. As an alkali it can be more destructive to tissue than many acids. It can damage nerve endings very quickly, meaning the victim might not be aware of what has happened as they cannot feel any pain. Once someone comes into contact with it, speed is of the essence.

“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.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice, promoting training, new or revised regulations and codes of practice, and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
  2. Regulation 7(1) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 states: “Every employer shall ensure that the exposure of his employees to substances hazardous to health is either prevented or, where this is not reasonably practicable, adequately controlled.”

 

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