Firm in court after teenager scarred by toxic chemical

A Cannock vehicle repair company was today fined after a 16 year-old on work experience suffered burns when toxic paint stripper splashed into his eyes and face.

The school pupil should not have been exposed to the risk of being splashed with the dangerous chemical, and should have been provided with appropriate safety goggles to prevent this happening.

Bret Thomas, from Cannock, now 17, had his vision seriously affected for a month and has scarring on his face. He still suffers vision sensitivity and will be prone to suffering from migraines for the rest of his life.

Stafford Magistrates were told that Bret, a pupil of Cannock Chase High School, had been on an extended work placement at Motorhouse 2000 Ltd at its Adini House site on Wolverhampton Road since September 2011.

On 18 January 2012 he was told to assist an employee who was refilling the wheel stripping tank. The employee poured toxic paint stripper from plastic containers into the tank and then passed the containers to Bret who was removing all the labels and cutting them in half in order to dispose of them.

However, as Bret was cutting the last container with a Stanley knife, the plastic container flicked up and remnants of the toxic substance splashed into his eyes and face. He was not wearing any face or eye protection.

Bret suffered burns to his face and eyes. After initial treatment at Cannock Hospital, he was transferred to the specialist eye unit New Cross Hospital. It was approximately a month before his sight returned sufficiently enough for him to go outside and even then, he needed to be accompanied and wear sunglasses.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which investigated, told magistrates that Motorhouse 2000 Ltd had changed to chemical stripping from a mechanical process to save time. It failed to risk assess this process, which involved employees coming into contact with toxic substances, nor ensured face or eye protection was worn by employees.

Motorhouse 2000 Ltd, of Watling Street, Cannock, pleaded guilty to contravening Regulation 19(2)(b) of the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The company was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,319.

After the hearing, an HSE inspector said:

“This young man has suffered an extremely painful ordeal in an incident that was totally preventable. The impact will be long lasting but Bret could have been blinded for life.

“The substance involved contains dichloromethane, hydrofluoric acid and methanol, which have been known to cause death through inhalation, burns when in contact with skin and eyes, and irreversible damage.

“Motorhouse 2000 Ltd gave little consideration to the health or safety of its employees when working with chemicals by not ensuring protective equipment, including face and eye protection, was worn. They failed to adequately assess the risks of the chemicals used which resulted in poor control measures being put in place for everyone working in that area.

“Work experience is very important for young people in order for them to gain an understanding of the world of work. However, employers must fulfil their responsibilities to assess risks and protect young people by putting the appropriate control measures in place.”