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Cambridge firm and consultant fined over chemical exposure

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

An employee suffered irritation to his eyes, breathing difficulties, headaches and lost the ability to concentrate after working with harmful substances. He is now no longer able to work.

Cambridge Magistrates' Court heard 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 the instrument company 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 the company employed a person trading as a consultancy business. However, the consultant did not provide suitable information and advice to enable the company to ensure the health and well-being of employees.

The instrument company 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.

The person trading as a consultancy business was fined £1,500 with costs of £1,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(2) of the same legislation.

After the hearing the HSE Inspector said:

The instrument company failed to ensure the health of its employees because it employed the wrong person to give it health and safety advice.

The consultant'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."

The partner of the employee whose health was affected said:

"This whole thing has had a huge effect on our lives, as we have to constantly plan around his 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."