Theddlethorpe man fined £18,000 after employee suffers severe lead poisoning

Court case.
Court case.

A 59-year-old man from Theddlethorpe has been fined £18,000 after one of his employees suffered severe lead poisoning and stated the whole experience had ‘ruined’ his life.

David Sear of Rotton Row, Theddlethorpe, near Mablethorpe pleaded guilty to breaching 6(1) of the Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002 between January 16, 2010 and October 13, 2011 for failing to control the risk of lead exposure.

David Doherty, 26, from the Lincolnshire area had seven times the normal amount of lead in his blood after five years of restoring windows for Lincolnshire Stained Glass, using techniques such as soldering, wire brushing and wire wooling.

Lincoln Magistrates Court was told on Thursday (February 6) that Mr Doherty had been ill for a number of years before his diagnosis in October 2011.

He had complained of nausea, feeling unwell and tired, and had suffered with frequent infections. He lost his appetite, was unable to sleep and felt depressed.

It was only on a visit to his local surgery after contracting another infection that the practice nurse asked where he worked and realised his illness could be lead poisoning.

Mr Doherty has bene undergoing hospital treatment for over a year and has had to leave Lincolnshire and return to live with his family in Lancashire as he has been unable to work since his diagnosis.

A subsequent investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Mr Sear, sole owner of Lincolnshire Stained Glass, failed to provide controls to protect his six workers from lead, despite being advised of the requirement to do so in 2005 when blood tests carried out on the advice of HSE showed workers were at significant risk of lead poisoning.

HSE’s investigation also found there were no suitable dust extraction systems in place and that workers were not using masks when soldering, putting them at risk from lead fumes.

Dust masks were provided for some activities but no-one at the company had been face-fitted for their respiratory protective equipment to ensure that it was suitable.

In addition, the instruction and training workers received was not adequate and they had not been told about the risk and symptoms of lead poisoning.

The court heard that workers should have worn full overall and been provided with clean and dirty change areas, with overalls bagged and other protective equipment should have been removed before eating, drinking or going home, instead, some workers were only provided with aprons or disposable overalls, and some regularly went home wearing work clothes contaminated with lead, putting their families at risk of exposure.

Mr Sear was fined £18,000 and ordered to pay costs of the same amount.

Speaking after the hearing, David Doherty said: “This whole experience has just ruined my life. It was just one thing after another and I was constantly going back to the doctors.

“I was feeling and being sick, lost my appetite and I found myself getting really angry all the time, losing my temper with people. My friend noticed a real change in me and I fell out with people as a result. I did not know what was happening to me, only that it wasn’t at all nice.”

He added: “The first I knew anything about working safely with lead was when the Healthy and Safety Executive took my statement. I had no training and didn’t take any certificates in working with lead. I eve used to go home in the clothes I had been working in.

“Thankfully I’m starting to feel better. I was in a really bad place for a while but it feels like the treatment is working. I’ll need more blood tests to tell me if the lead is leaving my body.

“In the future, I’m thinking of going to college and maybe even starting my own business. I’m trying to stay positive.”

HSE Inspector, Lorraine Nicholls said: “Mr Sear is the owner of a specialist business that has been operating for 30 years. He had no excuse for turning a blind eye to the known risks of this profession and neglecting the required safety standards to protect his workforce.

“Employees’ exposure to lead would have been greatly reduced with proper controls such as adequate extraction systems, suitable hygiene arrangements, personal protective equipment, air monitoring and medical surveillance - all measure Mr Sear knew he should have had in place.”

She also added: “The instruction and training that Mr Doherty received also left a lot to be desired. Had he and his colleagues been aware of the risks of working with lead, Mr Doherty’s condition could have been diagnosed a lot sooner and not been left to worsen. It was disappointing that Mr Sear did not even recognise the symptoms.”