Meadow Foods, one of the UK’s largest independent dairies, has been fined £54,000 after a female and male employee were scalded while cleaning a tank in the factory.
The firm 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.
Meadow Foods told DairyReporter.com it continues to take health and safety seriously and is working towards achieving its OHSAS 18001 (occupational health and safety management system) accreditation this year.
Third degree burns
Hot water escaped from the top of a 600L tank and scalded two workers during the incident in Marlston-Cum-Lache, Chester, in October 2011.
A 35-year-old woman suffered third degree burns all over her body and spent a week in a specialist burns unit at Whiston Hospital, Merseyside. It was several weeks before she returned to work.
She was described by other employees as a ‘diligent and competent worker,’ and retained scarring on her back and two other places.
The man, a 22-year-old employee, sustained burns to his left arm, head and lower back, and needed hospital treatment.
The cleaning procedure needed a series of valve changes on the tank but there were no written instructions or diagrams on how to do this, Chester Magistrates’ Court heard.
Fine and costs
When the male employee opened one of the values, compressed air was released into the tank forcing water out. The water was over 70°c.
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, the court was told.
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 £18,553 costs after pleading guilty to single breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 on March 6 2014.
“The system for cleaning the tank was very complicated, requiring 10 separate valves to be opened and closed in a specific sequence,” said Lisa Lewis, Inspector, HSE.
“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.”
DairyReporter.com contacted Meadow Foods. It declined to comment on the incident but said it has worked closely with the HSE to review internal processes and improve health and safety to make sure such an incident does not happen again.
“As part of the ruling, the court recognised Meadow Foods’ previously good record and the work it has already done in improving its health and safety procedures," a spokesman said in a statement. "Meadow Foods continues to take health & safety at all its sites very seriously and as further commitment to this is looking to achieve OHSAS 18001 accreditation later this year.”