Firms fined for exposing workers to lead

Two companies have been fined a total of £70,000 for exposing workers to lead during refurbishment work on a structure in the Solent.

Russell Leggett and Robert Peach required hospital treatment after inhaling dust and fumes when steel coated in lead paint was cut into and removed in July 2013. Both required intensive treatment and months of monitoring before lead levels in their blood returned to safe levels.

Bam Nuttall Ltd and Four Tees Engineering Ltd were prosecuted after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified failings with control measures surrounding the steel cutting.

Portsmouth Crown Court was told on 12 December that Bam Nuttall was responsible for a project to remove weathered steel from the NabTower, a former military control installation now used as a navigation aid for vessels in the waters around the Isle of Wight and the Solent.

The work of removing sections of steel using industrial torches was sub-contracted to Four Tees, with workers from both companies involved.

Bam Nuttall knew the steel was coated in lead paint, but failed to assess the need for control measures against lead exposure. HSE also established that Four Tees overlooked suitable control measures and failed to ensure its employees had suitable medical surveillance while working with a potentially harmful substance.

After the incident, strict rules were implemented to create “dirty” and “clean” areas, with decontamination required before transferring from one to the other. Workers were also given better face masks and regular medical surveillance to protect them against exposure to lead, which can permanently damage nerves and organs.

Bam Nuttall Ltd 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 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 said: “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.”

The case highlights the need for those involved in construction projects to carry out thorough risk assessments to identify and put in place control measures for all risk factors, including paint containing lead, the use of which has been restricted in the UK since the 1960s.

The Lead Paint Safety Association says: “Potential lead paint and dust hazards on a project need to be identified and quantified as early as possible. This allows for the proper evaluation of the options to remove or replace, encapsulate or paint over affected areas and components. Lead surveys are a legal requirement for commercial projects where paintwork is liable to be disturbed, regardless of the age of the building/s.”

Palmers provides expert legal support to employers on meeting their compliance responsibilities, with services including advice on health and safety policies and carrying out workplace risk assessments and health and safety audits.

For more information, please contact Lara Murray

Even with the most robust risk management and safeguards in place, accidents and incidents can occur in the workplace. As a result, the employer and their business may face investigation by the HSE, the police or local authorities with the potential for severe consequences in the criminal courts should they be found liable. For advice and representation on issues including enforcement action, investigations and prosecutions, please contact Jeremy Sirrell.