Lead poisoning case leads to suspended prison sentence for owner of alloy firm

The owner of an alloy firm has been given a suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay £80,000 after he failed to protect workers from the risks of lead poisoning.

Working conditions were so bad a notice was served to halt work

The HSE prosecuted Laurence Brown after three employees at his firm LDB Light Alloys became seriously ill. They included 28-year-old Brook Northey, who required specialist treatment at the West Midlands Poisons Unit.

Northey had been working with two colleagues at the firm making molten lead into sheets. His job was to skim off the solid impurities from liquid lead in a crucible and pour the excess liquid into containers.

There were no handwashing facilities

He was hospitalised for three weeks in May 2011 and continued to receive treatment for more than a year. He was also off work for 12 months and can never work with lead again.

HSE inspectors investigating the exposure decided that conditions at the firm were so bad that they had to serve a prohibition notice to halt all work.

Nottingham Crown Court was told yesterday (4 February) that extraction systems, personal protective equipment, respiratory protection, hygiene and rest facilities were all unsatisfactory, and that Brown had not provided air monitoring or medical surveillance.

The lead-contaminated caravan

Workers took lunch breaks in an old, lead-contaminated caravan with no running water, and water was collected in plastic milk cartons from a contaminated handwashing area in the workshop.

Staff did not remove work clothes before eating and drinking and there was no toilet at the factory.

Judge Dickinson sentenced Brown to six months in prison, suspended for 18 months. He also fined him £45,000 and ordered him to pay £35,000 costs after he admitted breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

There was no running water

The judge said: “It would take the skill of Charles Dickens to adequately

describe the conditions in which your staff worked.”

Joanne du Plessis highlights the obligations on employers when working with lead. Employers need to:

  • Assess the risk
  • Introduce control measures, and carry out air monitoring if exposure is ‘significant’
  • Ensure high standards of personal hygiene
  • Place employees under medical surveillance if exposure is ‘significant’
  • Provide employees with information, instruction and training