Company prosecuted for severe burns in accident at work

A Warwickshire company that manufactures car components has been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after a worker sustained severe burns in an accident at work.

He was burned by caustic soda as he leaned over a conveyor and required skin grafts to his stomach.

The accident at work occurred at the company’s Tachbrook Park premises, near Leamington Spa in January 2012.

The man was working on the spray line as part of the process for manufacturing car headliners, which for part of the car’s roof interior. They are made up of a number of layers which are glued together. The adhesive is applied to the individual layers as it passes through the sprayer machine on the conveyor.

The conveyor has a reservoir that contains a solution of caustic soda, or sodium hydroxide, which is used to soften adhesive that builds up on the conveyor, allowing it to be scraped off more easily.

The man’s job was to remove the components from the conveyor as they left the spray machine. The size and shape of the headliners meant that he and other workers needed to lean over the conveyor to lift them. They then had to support them on their abdomen to transport them to the next part of the process.

During this process, the man’s stomach came into contact with caustic soda.

He experienced some irritation whilst at work, but assumed that he had perhaps strained a muscle.

Later when he got home he noticed that his skin was black. He returned to work and informed his shift manager who arranged for him to go to hospital.

His skin was irrigated with water to neutralise the alkali, but the damage sustained was substantial and he required skin grafts.

The subsequent HSE investigation found that the company had not put measures in place to prevent workers coming into contact with caustic soda. Although the man had been given personal protective equipment it was not suitable to working with chemicals.

Melanie Lidstone Land, expert personal injury lawyer at Swain & Co Solicitors says, “Alkali substances can be more corrosive to skin than many acids. They damage nerve endings, often resulting in a person not knowing they have been injured as they feel little pain.”

“In this case, an employer failed in their duty to protect their employee and as a result he sustained an injury whilst at work that required major treatment.”