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BAM Nuttall fined after paint stripping exposed workers to high lead levels

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A civil engineering worker was exposed to lead at almost twice the safe limit while working on a project to refurb a well-known lighthouse off the Isle of Wight overseen by the construction company BAM Nuttall, a court has heard.


Portsmouth Crown Court was told that BAM Nuttall had been contracted to remove weathered steel from the Nab Tower, a landmark former military control installation that sits in the sea off the Isle of Wight and acts a guiding beacon for ships navigating the waters around the Solent.

The work, which was carried out in 2013, involved using industrial torches to remove sections of steel coated in lead paint, a job that was sub-contracted to Four Tees Engineering Ltd of Hampshire, with workers from both companies involved.

However, the court heard that Russell Leggett and Robert Peach, who were employed by Four Tees Engineering, required hospital treatment after inhaling dust and fumes containing lead.

Tests showed that Russell had a blood lead reading of 110, almost double the safe level of 60, and Robert’s was 97. Both workers required intensive treatment and many months of monitoring before their blood lead tests returned to safe levels. Three BAM Nuttall workers were also exposed and put at risk, although their tests proved inconclusive.

The court heard that, despite being aware the steel was coated in lead paint, BAM failed to apply this knowledge and assess the need for control measures against lead exposure. HSE discovered that Four Tees Engineering was equally culpable because it had also overlooked suitable control measures, and failed to ensure its employees had suitable medical surveillance while working with lead, which can permanently damage vital nerves and organs. Inspectors concluded there was little in place to stop the spread of lead dust and contamination.

After the incident, strict rules were implemented to create ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ areas where decontamination was required before transferring from one to the other. Workers were also given better face masks and regular medical surveillance.

Speaking after the cae, investigating HSE inspector Andrew Moore said: “The paint coating the steel was known to contain lead and it should have been handled with care from day one. Instead both companies allowed a number of unsafe practices, including eating, drinking and smoking, to continue unchallenged at the site that fuelled potential contamination.

“Not that the workers would have known because there was no surveillance in place to monitor levels of lead in their blood and flag when the exposure had occurred.

“Dutyholders should always err on the side of caution when cutting, stripping or grinding painted material and assume it contains lead unless there is good evidence to prove otherwise.”

BAM Nuttall, of Camberley, Surrey, was fined a total of £56,000 and ordered to pay £6,165 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1)of the HSWA 1974 and two breaches of regulations 3(1)(a) and 3(1)(b) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Four Tees Engineering Ltd was fined £14,000 with £2,081 costs for single breaches of section 2(1) of the HSWA 1974 and regulation 10(1) of the Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002.

 

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