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MAJOR CONTRACTOR FAILED TO ASSESS LEAD RISK

Workmen treated in hospital following lead dust and fume exposure

Bam Nuttall Ltd and Four Tees Engineering Ltd have been fined after workers were exposed to lead during refurbishment work on the Nab Tower structure in the Solent.

Two workmen required hospital treatment after inhaling dust and fumes when steel coated in lead paint was cut into and removed from the structure in July 2013.

Blood tests showed lead levels which “far exceeded safe levels”. Both workers required intensive treatment and months of monitoring before their blood tests returned to safe levels.

Portsmouth Crown Court heard (12 December) that Bam Nuttall was responsible for a project to remove weathered steel from the former military control installation that has become a beacon for captains navigating waters around the Isle of Wight and the Solent.

The work involved removing sections of steel using cutting gear. Bam Nuttal Ltd knew the steel was coated in lead paint but failed to apply this knowledge and assess the need for control measures against lead exposure. Four Tees overlooked suitable control measures and failed to arrange suitable medical surveillance for those working with lead. Inspectors concluded there was little measures in place to stop the spread of lead dust and contamination.

Following the incident strict rules were implemented to create ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ areas where decontamination was required before transferring from area one to the other. Workers were provided with improved RPE and regular medical surveillance.

Assume painted material contains lead – unless good contrary evidence

Bam Nuttall Ltd of Surrey, was fined a total of £56,000 and ordered to pay £6,165 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and two breaches of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992.

Four Tees Engineering Ltd of Fareham, was fined £14,000 with £2,081 costs for single breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act and Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Andrew Moore commented:

“The Nab Tower exposure was serious, and demonstrates the need to properly assess and guard against potential inhalation of lead fumes and dust.

The paint coating the steel was known to contain lead and it should have been handled with care from day one. Instead both companies allowed a number of unsafe practices, including eating, drinking and smoking, to continue unchallenged at the site that fuelled potential contamination.

Not that the workers would have known because there was no surveillance in place to monitor levels of lead in their blood and flag when the exposure had occurred.

Duty holders should always err on the side of caution when cutting, stripping or grinding painted material and assume it contains lead unless there is good evidence to prove otherwise. That means having adequate decontamination, surveillance and other control measures in place.”

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