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Company sentenced for exposing worker to deadly fumes

Date:
23 May 2013

A bath restoration company has been fined for safety failings after a worker died from inhaling toxic fumes in the bathroom of a South West London flat.

Colin Pocock, 55, was using an industrial paint and varnish remover to strip a resin coating from a bath at a housing association property in Eton Close, Wandsworth, when he was overcome by fumes on 16 June 2009.

The stripping agent contained dichloromethane, also known as methylene chloride, a carcinogenic toxic chemical. Fumes rapidly built up in the confined space and he died at the scene as a result of over exposure.

His body was discovered by the occupant of the flat, who does not wish to be identified.

Southwark Crown Court heard today (23 May) that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the death and found there was insufficient natural ventilation in the bathroom. Mr Pocock’s employer, Multicrest Ltd, a franchisee of Renubath Services Ltd, should have provided mechanical ventilation equipment to compensate.

HSE found written documentation from Multicrest stating that work of this nature should only be done in well ventilated areas, but no equipment was provided to employees. Managers were unaware of how work needed to be done in bathrooms and failed to provide adequate safe working arrangements.

Multicrest Ltd, of Castle Business Village, Station Road, Hampton, Middlesex, was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay £56,286 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Steve Kirton said:

"This is a shocking death resulting from totally inadequate ventilation in the enclosed bathroom space in which Colin Pocock had to operate.

"The risks associated with stripping agents containing dichloromethane are well known, yet he was exposed to lethal fumes with virtually no protection. Mechanical ventilation equipment is often a necessity, but all he had to rely on was a small open window, a basic mask and pot luck.

"The use of substances that create toxic fumes must only be used where the fumes cannot build up and affect people, and the work must be properly planned and supervised – none of which happened on this occasion."

Today’s sentencing at Southwark Crown Court follows an earlier prosecution of Renubath Services Ltd, Multicrest’s franchising company, for identical failings linked to inadequate ventilation arrangements.

The company, now in liquidation, was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £21,202 in costs at Westminster Magistrates Court on 30 May 2012 after also pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 in proceedings brought by HSE.

It follows an investigation into work on properties across South West England between February 2006 and July 2009.

Further information about working safely with hazardous chemicals, including dichloromethane, can be found online at www.hse.gov.uk/reach

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. Section 2(1) of the 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."

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