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Electroplater’s burns result in fine for employer

October 9, 2012

Some workplaces seem to be just waiting for an accident and Tyneside electroplaters DMI (UK) Ltd appears to be a case in point.

The company has just been fined for lax health and safety conditions at the workplace which led to one of the employees suffering from horrible burns when he got soaked in corrosive chemical solutions when carrying out his normal duties.

Sodium hydroxide is also known as caustic soda and, in small doses, is used to clean household sinks and plumbing when they get bunged up with fats and grease. Exactly the same substance is used in the electroplating industry in much larger quantities to clean the surface of metallic objects before they receive a coating of the metal to be plated on to them.

The substance is very corrosive and when in contact with any exposed skin can cause nasty burns.

Michael Reid, who was 66 at the time of his accident, had worked at the company’s plant for nearly fifty years, but had apparently never received sufficient training in the corrosive qualities of sodium hydroxide, according to the Health and Safety Executive, who carried out an investigation into the incident.

Not only that, the solution of the corrosive chemical was regularly topped up using a pump and hose arrangement which were connected together using a piece of tape rather than something more secure like a hose clip or jubilee clip.

When Mr. Reid went to turn on the tap in what should have been a routine operation, the tape connection failed and the solution sprayed out all over the unfortunate worker’s legs and body.

What made the whole situation worse was that there was no proper protective gear for Mr. Reid to wear, so that he got more of the solution on his skin than he might have done.

Mr. Reid never returned to his job after eventually recovering from his injuries. He also had to receive numerous skin grafts as part of the attempt to repair his damaged skin.

The company was fined £12,000 plus court costs for its failure to adhere to Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The HSE Inspector, reporting at the court hearing, said that the company had a duty to look after the safety of its employees and the incident could have easily been prevented by a proper risk assessment of the operating equipment, training and protective clothing for the workers involved.