A Surrey-based civil engineering firm and a Hampshire fabrication company have been fined for exposing workers to lead during refurbishment work on the iconic Nab Tower in the Solent.
Russell Leggett, from Bassett, and Robert Peach, from Hamble-le-Rice, required hospital treatment after inhaling dust and fumes when steel coated in lead paint was cut into and removed from the structure in July 2013. Blood tests showed traces of lead far exceeded safe levels – and was almost double the acceptable standard in Russell’s case.
Both workers required intensive treatment and months of monitoring before their blood tests returned to safe levels.
Bam Nuttall Ltd and Four Tees Engineering Ltd were both prosecuted after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified failings with control measures surrounding the steel cutting work.
Portsmouth Crown Court heard today (12 December) that Bam Nuttall was responsible for a project to remove weathered steel from the Nab Tower, a former military control installation that has become an important beacon for captains navigating the busy waters around the Isle of Wight and the Solent.
The work involved removing sections of steel using industrial torches, a job that was sub-contracted to Four Tees, with workers from both companies involved.
Despite knowing the steel was coated in lead paint, Bam failed to apply this knowledge and assess the need for control measures against lead exposure.
HSE established that Four Tees was equally culpable because it too overlooked suitable control measures, and also failed to ensure its employees had suitable medical surveillance whilst working with a potentially harmful substance, which can permanently damage vital nerves and organs.
Inspectors concluded there was little in place to stop the spread of lead dust and contamination.
Russell and Robert, whose blood tested positive, were both employed by Four Tees. Robert had a reading of 97 and Russell 110 against a safe level of 60. Three Bam Nuttall workers were also exposed and put at risk, although their tests proved inconclusive.
After the incident, strict rules were implemented to create ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ areas where decontamination was required before transferring from one to the other. Workers were also given better face masks and regular medical surveillance.
Bam Nuttall, of Camberley, Surrey, was fined a total of £56,000 and ordered to pay £6,165 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and two breaches of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992.
Four Tees Engineering Ltd, of Dewer Close, Segensworth West, Fareham, was fined £14,000 with £2,081 costs for single breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act and Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002.
After the hearing, HSE inspector Andrew Moore commented:
“The Nab Tower exposure was serious, and demonstrates the need to properly assess and guard against potential inhalation of lead fumes and dust. “The paint coating the steel was known to contain lead and it should have been handled with care from day one. Instead both companies allowed a number of unsafe practices, including eating, drinking and smoking, to continue unchallenged at the site that fuelled potential contamination.
“Not that the workers would have known because there was no surveillance in place to monitor levels of lead in their blood and flag when the exposure had occurred.
“Duty holders should always err on the side of caution when cutting, stripping or grinding painted material and assume it contains lead unless there is good evidence to prove otherwise. That means having adequate decontamination, surveillance and other control measures in place.”
Notes to Editors:
- 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
- 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.”
- Section 3 covers ‘General duties of employers and self-employed to persons other than their employees’, as detailed here: HSWA 1974 Sec 3
- Regulation 3(1)(a) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992 states: “Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of (a) the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work.”
- Regulation 3(1)(b) covers: “(b) the risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking.”
- Regulation 10(1) of the Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002 states: “Every employer shall ensure that each of his employees who is or is liable to be exposed to lead is under suitable medical surveillance by a relevant doctor where (a) the exposure of the employee to lead is, or is liable to be, significant; (b) the blood-lead concentration or urinary lead concentration of the employee is measured and equals or exceeds the levels detailed in paragraph (2); or (c) a relevant doctor certifies that the employee should be under such medical surveillance, and the technique of investigation is of low risk to the employee.”