Company Fined After Breaching Safety Laws

Expert Health And Safety Lawyers Welcome Ruling After Workers Suffer Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Due To Poor Maintenance

11.04.2011

Work accident specialists at law firm Irwin Mitchell have welcomed a Court’s decision to fine a Huddersfield company for failing to maintain a faulty gas boiler – which led to three men suffering potentially fatal carbon monoxide poisoning.

Paul Wainwright, 49, Richard McKearnan, 59, and Tony Deakin, 50, all from Sheffield, were working as asbestos removers for Nicol UK Ltd in Huddersfield (now known as Newlincs Services), when they were poisoned by gasses which leaked from the boiler of a decontamination unit which was supposed to protect them.

Anyone working with asbestos is required to go through a decontamination unit to prevent them from inhaling asbestos dust, which can cause the fatal lung cancer mesothelioma later in life.

Huddersfield Magistrates' Court has now ordered Newlincs Services to pay a £5,000 fine after the HSE prosecuted the company. It must also pay £3,580 in costs after admitting breaching health and safety laws.

David Urpeth, Partner and National Head of Workplace Injuries at Irwin Mitchell, representing the three workers, said: “Running a gas powered decontamination unit with a faulty boiler and without a carbon monoxide detector is inexplicable given the danger posed by carbon monoxide exposure.

“Decontamination units are supposed to protect workers from illness, so it’s unbelievable that my clients have been put in a situation where their lives were endangered by a machine that’s supposed to protect them.

“Employers have a duty to follow strict health and safety procedures and take the necessary precautions to ensure staff can work safely. We welcome the HSE’s action to fine the company and we hope this case highlights to businesses that they must take responsibility for the safety of their employees.”

As soon as the workers left the cleaning unit they began to feel unwell, and a supervisor from the main contractors immediately took them to Huddersfield Royal Infirmary as they had suspected carbon monoxide poisoning.

As soon as they arrived at the hospital they were rushed through A&E and put on oxygen and a heart monitor. Mr McKearnen was told by doctors that the level of carbon monoxide in his bloodstream had been at 27 per cent, when 35 per cent is critical and 40 per cent fatal.

Tony Deakin said: “When working with asbestos we always wear protective overalls and masks and go through a three stage decontamination unit whenever we enter or leave site.

“On most sites we use a four-man unit which allows us all to change and shower at the same time, but on this site the chamber was much smaller and only able to hold one man at a time. It was also much older and powered by a gas boiler, when we usually use units powered by electricity.

“We usually spend around 15 minutes in the decontamination unit, but because we had to go through one at a time we were only four or five minutes each to save others from waiting outside.

“It’s terrible to think about what would have happened if we’d been in the unit for longer, if we’d been in there for 15 minutes there’s no way we would have survived.”