A worker who had racked up nearly half a century of employment for a Tyneside electroplating company retired just months after an incident in which he suffered serious burns from a highly-caustic chemical.
Michael Reid, 66, of North Shields, was employed as an electroplater at DMI (UK) Ltd when the incident happened on 30 January 2011. Magistrates heard how, as part of an electroplating production process, the company used a stripping tank filled with a solution of sodium hydroxide at 5 per cent. Every couple of months, as part of maintenance, the tank had to be topped up with the chemical at 32-per-cent concentration.
The concentrated solution was pumped from a barrel into the tank, via a hose. But, rather than using a permanent fixing, such as a jubilee clip, the hose was attached to the pump with tape. While Mr Reid was topping up the tank, the hose disconnected from the pump and he was doused in the chemical.
He suffered serious burns to his legs and body and spent two weeks in hospital, where he underwent several skin grafts. Mr Reid had worked for the company since 1963 and retired in July 2011. He never returned to work following the incident.
HSE inspector Shuna Rank explained to SHP that the company did not carry out a risk assessment of the procedure and, consequently, it did not have a safe system of work for checking hoses, or joints. She pointed out that Mr Reid had not been provided with a suitable work apron, which, had he been wearing, would have protected him, to some extent, from the spray. The investigation also revealed that DMI (UK) had failed to provide sufficient training for Mr Reid and other employees in the handling of sodium hydroxide. Said inspector Rank: “Sodium hydroxide continues to burn when on the skin. Although Mr Reid changed his clothes, he didn’t shower and he didn’t go straight to hospital. It was only the next morning that he realised how serious his injuries were and he went to hospital.”
While his co-workers responded promptly to the incident by drenching Mr Reid in water, the company’s failure to train workers in the risks associated with the highly-corrosive chemical meant they, too, didn’t appreciate the severity of the incident, added the inspector.
Appearing before North Tyneside magistrates on 21 September, DMI (UK) Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974, for failing to provide a safe system of work for topping up the stripping tank. It was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £4081 in costs.The company took immediate action following the incident to rewrite its work methods and provide suitable protective equipment. It also provided its workers with additional training on the risks associated with chemicals involved in electroplating.
Following the case, inspector Rank said: “This incident should never have happened. Had the hose been properly attached to the pump it would not have occurred and basic systems to check and maintain equipment could have prevented it. In addition, employees should have received training to ensure they were fully aware of the risks associated with handling concentrated sodium hydroxide.”