April Health & Safety Updates Solderer develops asthma at large manufacturers in Gloucester
An employee developed occupational asthma after working for a large multi-national company in Gloucester. He was employed between 1995 and 2004 as a solderer and was exposed to rosin based colophony solder fume during his career. His health was deteriorating from 1999 onwards, and he was taking time off work due to breathing difficulties.
The company did not have adequate control measures in place and failed to install fume extraction equipment to remove rosin based fumes from the workroom air or from the breathing zones of its solderers. The company did not substitute the rosin based solder with rosin free solder until December 2003, despite an assessment having identified the need to in 1999.
Employees, including the asthma suffer were not placed under a health surveillance scheme at any time.
Safety representative spots baker’s asthma
A 51-year-old maintenance fitter worked at a bakery for about 20 years. He did not smoke or have any history of asthma before he started work.
He complained of breathlessness, wheezing and coughing. This had been getting gradually worse during the past 15 years. At work, his eyes often became red and watery. He had sneezing attacks. His symptoms were not affected by the season of the year. But he noticed that they improved when he was away from work. A chest physician had previously diagnosed the fitter with asthma but had not connected this with his work.
It was the trade union representative who suspected occupational asthma.
A series of tests showed that his lung function was considerably better at weekends and on holiday. Further tests indicated a flour dust allergy. As a result of these investigations, management arranged for him to work in less dusty areas of the plant. They improved the dust extraction and issued him with a suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE).
He remains at work using a RPE to reduce his exposure, and medicine to improve his symptoms. However, his general respiratory health is poor because of chronic asthma, for which he receives disablement benefit. Investigations revealed that this was not the only victim. Two further cases of flour dust allergy were detected.
These workers have better health, because their developing asthmas were picked up more quickly. However, they still need medication to control their symptoms. And they are likely to suffer from breathing problems for the rest of their lives.
School cook can hardly walk
A 46-year-old school cook developed breathing problems after working with flour in the school kitchen. The room was small with poor ventilation. Her breathing problems became so severe that she could hardly walk and she had to sleep sitting up.
Her daily job included dough making in a large mixer. There were no controls for the flour dust
The cook contacted her union, which supported her with a compensation claim on the basis that decent working conditions were not provided. The council admitted that it had not taken sufficient action over the problem despite repeated complaints. The HSE was not involved.
The cook became severely asthmatic. She had to retire early on health grounds, and the courts eventually awarded her £200,000 in damages. But the money will not bring back her health. While she was able to move out of town, she rarely leaves the house. She faces a very restricted lifestyle.
Isocyanates sensitise two workers
Two workers from an electroplating factory had symptoms that suggested occupational asthma. The diagnosis was confirmed by lung function tests in the workplace. But the cause was unknown. Then, a worker produced a safety data sheet describing a lacquer containing isocyanates. This lacquer was used to coat the silver-plated goods and then cured in an oven.
The HSE confirmed that isocyanates were being used, and the employer was exceeding the workplace exposure limits. Testing with cheap smoke tubes showed contaminated air from the ovens was reaching the workers. The employer subsequently installed fume extraction which dramatically reduced the levels of isocyanates in the working environment.
One of the workers took early retirement on medical grounds, with compensation for occupational asthma due to isocyanates. The second worker had to change employment and applied for compensation.
Company reduces fumes in Birmingham welders
Workers at a welding company in Birmingham were being exposed to potentially harmful welding fume it was found. Exposure to welding fumes is associated with a number of occupational diseases, including COPD, chronic bronchitis, ‘fume fever’ and on rare occasions asthma.
The HSE inspection found that there were no control measures in place to protect workers from welding fume.The employees were welding mild steel and galvanized materials and atleast one welder was being exposed for 7-8 hours a day.
The HSE asked the company to do a
COSHH assessment to identify ways to reduce exposure. However, when HSE returned it had not been done. The company was served with an improvement notice requiring them to reduce expose to the fumes. Failure to comply with an improvement notice can lead to prosecution and fines.
The company fitted
local exhaust ventilation to all their welding benches.
Through intervention, the HSE reduced the levels of welding fume the workers were exposed to, and potentially prevented them from suffering occupational ill health in the future.
Company fined after employees suffer dermatitis
Workers at a company premises in Bristol were exposed to hazardous chemicals over a four-year period leading to the onset of a disease called ‘allergic contact dermatitis.’ One employee suffered four years of his skin blistering, cracking, splitting and weeping because of this allergic dermatitis.
Two other employees also suffered the symptoms of allergic dermatitis, including fingers and hands becoming so badly swollen and blistered that one could not do up his shirt buttons without his fingers splitting open. All three employees had been working with photographic chemicals.
The company was fined a total of £100,000 and ordered to pay £30,000 costs. They were fined £30,000 for breaching The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and £10,000 for 6 separate breaches of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations for not making adequate risk assessments, not preventing or controlling exposure of employees to chemicals, and for not providing any ‘health surveillance’ of employees at-risk. They were also fined £10,000 for not reporting a case of allergic contact dermatitis.