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Cambridge firm and consultant fined over chemical exposure

Date:
11 January 2013

A Cambridge instrument company and a health and safety consultant have been fined for risking the health of employees from hazardous chemicals.

Paint sprayer Adam Coventon, 36, suffered irritation to his eyes, breathing difficulties, headaches and lost the ability to concentrate after working with harmful substances at Prior Scientific Instruments Ltd in Fulbourn. He is now no longer able to work.

Cambridge Magistrates’ Court heard yesterday (10 January) that his job was to prepare and paint small components for scientific instruments, which involved working with chemicals including trichloroethylene, a powerful de-greaser used to clean metal before it is painted, and paints containing isocyanates.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Prior Scientific Instruments did not provide suitable equipment to adequately remove the hazardous fumes from the workplace, especially where items were left to dry.

HSE also found that in addition to inadequate controls, the company failed to provide employees with the necessary health surveillance for workers using hazardous substances. Health surveillance is a key part of ensuring that peoples’ health has not been affected by the chemicals they use at work.

The Court was told that between September 2002 and December 2009 the company employed Keith Whiting, trading as KW Consultants, as a health and safety consultant. However, he did not provide suitable information and advice to enable the company to ensure the health and wellbeing of employees.

Prior Scientific Instruments Ltd, of Wilbraham Road, Fulbourn, Cambridge, was fined £9,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £2,852 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Keith Whiting, trading as KW Consultants, of West Street, Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, was fined £1,500 with costs of £1,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(2) of the same legislation.

After the hearing HSE Inspector Robert Meardon said:

"Prior Scientific Instruments failed to ensure the health of its employees because it employed the wrong person to give it health and safety advice.

"Mr. Whiting’s background was in quality control and he did not have adequate knowledge of health and safety for the work going on in this company. He failed to make them aware of the ‘do’s and don’ts’, regarding the use of hazardous chemicals.

"In 2010, the Government commissioned Lord Young to review health and safety laws and among the findings, the inquiry recognised that there were a lot of people claiming to be health and safety experts, who were in fact, not. The national register of health and safety consultants has been set up as a result. All the consultants who are registered are members of a recognised professional body, and it is important that firms seeking to use a consultant choose one from the register."

Adam Coventon’s partner, who does not want to be named, said:

"This whole thing has had a huge effect on our lives, as we have to constantly plan around Adam’s symptoms. We all just wish that his remaining symptoms go so that he can once again be fit and strong.

"This case highlights the important job the Health and Safety Executive do, and the need for companies to monitor and control chemicals they use so they do not wreck peoples lives in the way that ours has been."

Further information and advice about working with chemicals can be found at www.hse.gov.uk/coshh

Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related 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. Section 2(1) of Health and Safety at Work Etc Act 1974 states: "It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees."
  3. Section 3(2) of Health and Safety at Work Etc Act 1974 states: "It shall be the duty of every self-employed person to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that he and other persons (not being his employees) who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety."

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