HSE fines agricultural machinery company after chemical risk

A Lincolnshire agricultural machinery manufacturer has been fined after employees were put at risk of developing asthma through the spraying of a hazardous chemical.

Grantham Magistrates' Court heard on 14 October that Marston Agricultural Services Ltd allowed trailers to be sprayed with isocyanate-containing paint without fully assessing the potential dangers and implementing adequate controls to protect workers from the effects of the chemical.

The failings came to light after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) made an unannounced visit to the company, on Toll Bar Road in Marston, on 20 June 2011.

Inspectors found the isocyanate-containing paint was being sprayed in large quantities and that the respiratory protective equipment and spray booths were not being used correctly.

The spray booths had not been maintained properly and were in poor condition. They were being used with the doors open and parts of the trailers were protruding into the workshop, meaning there was potential for significant exposure.

The court was told that although staff were provided with personal protective equipment, the overalls were ripped and the gloves were not suitable to prevent the chemicals breaking through to infiltrate clothing and skin.

The hygiene facilities provided for staff were also found in an extremely unhygienic condition, so much so that employees were reluctant to use them. The facilities included an emergency shower that had been broken for years.

Marston Agricultural Services Ltd, of Toll Bar Road, Marston, Grantham, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay a further £13,420 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Emma Madeley said:

"Marston Agricultural Services failed to adequately control their employees' exposure to hazardous chemicals over an extended period of time, despite having repeatedly received advice from HSE and others on the requirements of the Control Of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations.

"Breathing in isocyanate paint mist can cause asthma and paint sprayers are about 80 times more likely to get asthma than the average worker. Continued exposure may lead to permanent and severe asthma for which there is no cure. In some cases sufferers also become unable to use to common household chemicals such as cleaning materials and shampoo. Almost certainly, the sufferer would have to give up their current job.

"There is extensive freely-available information on HSE's website about how to work safely with isocyanates. An employer can prevent exposure and therefore the risk of asthma by having, properly designed spray booths and rooms, correct working procedures, appropriate personal protective equipment and regular checks to confirm that the controls are working properly."

Information on how to control isocyanate exposure in spray booths and spray rooms is available at www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/web36.pdf

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