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Recycling company fails to protect employees working with lead

23 January 2013

An Edmonton-based recycling company has been fined for failing to protect employees working with lead...

An Edmonton-based recycling company has been fined for failing to protect employees working with lead.

Metal and Waste Recycling Ltd, of Albert Works, Kenninghall Rd, Edmonton had bought and was stripping some lead-sheathed copper cabling from British Telecom (BT) after the network began to be changed from copper to fibre optic cable.

An investigation carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that between October 2008 and July 2009, more than 90 workers - most of whom were Romanian - were significantly exposed to lead as a result of this process.

HSE inspectors visited the site in April 2009 after an employee complained about insufficient protection when working with lead. During the site visit, HSE found nothing had been done to reduce lead exposure, with inadequate ventilation, face masks or respiratory equipment available.

It also found that although gloves were provided by the company, workers wore their own clothes, potentially spreading lead to other people and their own homes when they left work. Metal and Waste Recycling Ltd had not carried out blood tests or other health checks which are legally required when working with lead.

When HSE's appointed doctor carried out tests, 23 workers were found to have significantly high levels of lead in their blood. Of these, six people had symptoms of lead poisoning and were referred to St Thomas' Hospital poisons unit and two were put on chelation therapy by consultant toxicologists.

HSE Inspector Chris Tilley said:

"Lead exposure is a recognised cause of occupational ill health and its dangers are well known and documented. Working with lead requires adequate measures to either prevent or control exposure and appropriate monitoring of employees' blood lead levels.

"In this case there was an abysmal lack of care from the company. It failed to implement adequate control measures, carry out any health surveillance of their workers and provide adequate welfare facilities.

"The company fell far short of its legal duties and exposed its employees to an unacceptable level of risk which resulted in six people suffering lead poisoning and a further two workers needing hospital treatment."

At Westminster Magistrates' Court today, Metal and Waste Recycling Ltd pleaded guilty breaching the Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002 between 1 November 2008 and 1 October 2009. The company was fined £49,500 and ordered to pay £25,483 in costs.