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Silk weaving firm in court over safety breaches

14 August 2013

A Suffolk textile company has been sentenced for serious safety failings after a worker suffered three years of ill-health and was left disabled following his exposure to chemicals.

The worker, who does not wish to be named, was employed at Gainsborough Silk Weaving Company Ltd in Sudbury as the dye house manager from 1993 to his dismissal by the company in 2012.

The 57 year-old man had been suffering from chronic breathing difficulties since 2008, and had been hospitalised on a couple of occasions as a result. He was on a cocktail of drugs to suppress his symptoms. His symptoms improved markedly after he left the company and stopped working with chemicals.

The employee’s ill health was reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which today (14 August) prosecuted Gainsborough Silk Weaving Company Ltd at Ipswich Crown Court for a series of safety offences.

HSE found that the company had failed to assess the health risks arising from working with hazardous reactive dyes, despite the risks of respiratory damage being well known in the industry. As a result, they also failed to provide their staff with adequate training or equipment to safeguard their health when working with the substances.

The court heard that a health surveillance programme for the firm’s workforce was stopped in 2004. The programme, had it been operating, could have helped to prevent his long period of ill health.

HSE identified that the company’s failures were prolonged and covered the period from 2004 to HSE’s investigation in 2012.

In addition, the investigation found that the company had failed to provide health surveillance for exposure to noise after 2007 despite that fact that there is a legal requirement to do so where employees are likely to suffer from noise induced hearing loss.

The Gainsborough Silk Weaving Co Ltd of Alexandra Road, Sudbury, Suffolk, was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 towards costs over three years after pleading guilty of breaching Regulations 6(1), 7, 11 and 12 of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and Regulation 9(1) of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.

After the hearing HSE Inspector Martin Kneebone said:

“Gainsborough Silk Weaving Company Ltd fell well short of their responsibilities over a protracted time period. They neglected to assess the very real health risks involved and take the measures necessary to minimise those risks.

“The company should have installed suitable ventilation equipment for weighing and mixing the dyes. They should also have provided proper information, instruction, training and health surveillance for their employees. The lack of these left workers at a significant risk of contracting respiratory illnesses by their exposure to these chemicals.

“HSE has produced seven Textile Information Sheets on the safe handling of dyes and chemicals, all of which have been available since 2004.The risks of working with reactive dyes have been well known for many years.

“In addition, the company’s failure to provide health surveillance as regards exposure to high noise levels at work has meant that some employees, previously identified as vulnerable, may have suffered further deterioration in their hearing due to continued exposure. Again the risk of employees suffering noise induced hearing loss from working in the weaving industry is well known and preventable.”

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.
  2. Regulation 9 (1) of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 states:
    “If the risk assessment indicates that there is a risk to the health of his employees who are, or are liable to be, exposed to noise, the employer shall ensure that such employees are placed under suitable health surveillance, which shall include testing of their hearing.”
  3. Regulations 6(1), 7, 11 and 12 of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, state: “An employer shall not carry out work which is liable to expose any employees to any substance hazardous to health unless he has (a) made a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk created by that work to the health of those employees and of the steps that need to be taken to meet the requirements of these Regulations; and (b) implemented the steps referred to in sub-paragraph (a).
    “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.”
    “Where it is appropriate for the protection of the health of his employees who are, or are liable to be, exposed to a substance hazardous to health, the employer shall ensure that such employees are under suitable health surveillance.”
    “Every employer who undertakes work which is liable to expose an employee to a substance hazardous to health shall provide that employee with suitable and sufficient information, instruction and training.”

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