In January 2012, a 16-year-old employee of Motorhouse 2000 Ltd., a vehicle repair company located in England, suffered burns and damaged vision when toxic paint stripper splashed into his face. The U.K. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) fined the employer £4,000, or roughly $6,000, and ordered Motorhouse to pay costs totaling £6,319 (approximately $9,576).
Bret Thomas, a high school student from Cannock, England, 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 Thomas, who was removing, cutting and disposing the labels. As Thomas cut the last label, 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.
Thomas suffered burns to his face and eyes, and his vision was “seriously affected” for a month after the incident. Today, his face is scarred, he still suffers vision sensitivity, and he will be prone to migraines for the rest of his life.
“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,” said HSE inspector Katherine Blunt.
According to HSE, Thomas’s employer had changed to chemical stripping from a mechanical process to save time. The employer failed to risk assess this process, which involved employees coming into contact with toxic substances, and neglected to ensure workers wore face or eye protection. Thomas should not have been exposed to the risk of being splashed with the dangerous chemical, HSE stated, and should have been provided with appropriate safety goggles to prevent this happening.
“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,” Blunt added. “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.”
HSE fined Motorhouse 2000 Ltd. £4,000 and ordered to pay costs of £6,319. HSE is highlighting this incident to stress the importance of young worker safety.
“Work experience is very important for young people in order for them to gain an understanding of the world of work,” Blunt said. “However, employers must fulfill their responsibilities to assess risks and protect young people by putting the appropriate control measures in place.”