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Dairy factory fined after workers scalded

10 March 2014

A Chester-based dairy firm has been fined £54,000 after two employees were badly scalded when hot water escaped from the top of a 600 litre tank.

One worker suffered burns all over her body and spent a week in the specialist burns unit at Whiston Hospital following the incident at Meadow Foods Ltd in Marlston-cum-lache on 26 October 2011. The other employee sustained burns to his left arm, head and lower back, and also needed hospital treatment.

The firm, which processes milk, cream and butter, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found its system for cleaning the tank fell below the minimum legal standards. Chester Magistrates’ Court heard the cleaning procedure required a complicated series of valve changes on the tank but there were no written instructions or diagrams on how to do this.

The workers, who do not wish to be named, were in the process of cleaning it when the 22-year-old male employee from Chester opened one of the valves. This meant compressed air that had built up inside the pipes was released in the tank itself, forcing the hot water out. The water, which was over 70 degrees Celsius, rained down on the workers and badly scalded both of them. His female colleague, 35, from Wrexham, was off work for several weeks due to the extent of her injuries.

The court was told the company had carried out a risk assessment for the cleaning process a few months earlier but it had failed to identify basic risks such as burns from hot water or the build-up of pressure.

Meadow Foods Ltd, which employs 100 people at its site on Rough Hill in Marlston-cum-lache, was fined £54,000 and ordered to pay costs of £18,553 after pleading guilty to single breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 on 6 March 2014.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Lisa Lewis said: "The system for cleaning the tank was very complicated, requiring ten separate valves to be opened and closed in a specific sequence. However, employees weren’t given any written instructions on how to carry out the work safely. "There was simply no point in Meadow Foods carrying out a risk assessment for the work if they weren’t going to consider basic risks – like hot water scalding workers – and take action to control them. "The firm has since modified the tank to prevent water escaping, reduced the water temperature to 50 degrees, and provided laminated instructions and photos for the workers. "If these measures had been in place at the time of the incident then the employees’ injuries could have been avoided.”

The latest figures show 20 people were killed while working in the manufacturing industry in Great Britain in 2012/13. Information on improving safety is available at www.hse.gov.uk/manufacturing.