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Scrap firm fined £30,000 after workers suffered lead poisoning

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has successfully prosecuted a Lancashire scrap yard for allowing employees to carry on working despite being exposed to dangerous levels of lead fumes and dust.

The HSE investigated Darwen-based firm Frank Barnes (Darwen) Ltd in 2009 when a 48-year-old employee was found to have seven times the normal level of the heavy metal in his blood.

It transpired that the firm had been contracted to dismantle metal structures and machinery by a lead battery manufacturer, involving work at the factory and at Frank Barnes’ own site at Albert and Hope Mills on Cross Street in Darwen.

The owners of the battery firm provided an induction on working with lead, and regularly monitored each employee for exposure.

Frank Barnes was also told the employee should not work with lead materials at the Cross Street site, but the HSE said this advice was ignored.

The HSE was then alerted by the GP of another employee whose blood also had high levels of lead. 

The company was told to take any workers with high levels off any work with lead, but again no action was taken. The 48-year-old employee was eventually admitted to hospital.

When HSE visited the site in March 2010 they found two other workers, who should have been suspended from lead work, had been allowed to continue working with lead-containing materials and had not been given suitable protective equipment.

A case was brought to Preston Crown Court heard on 20 October 2014. Frank Barnes (Darwen) Ltd was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £29,639.65 in costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

HSE inspector Michael Mullen said: “This is one of the worst cases I have dealt with as an inspector. Frank Barnes (Darwen) Ltd consistently failed to respond to clear advice concerning employees with high levels of lead in their blood and these employees continued to be exposed to lead fumes.

“Workers were not warned about the risks they faced, nor given suitable protective masks or clothing.

“The scrap metal company had a duty to adequately assess and manage the risk of exposure of its employees to lead. However there was no assessment and no effective controls in place in relation to the work.”

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