A Lincolnshire stained glass artist has been fined after one of his employees suffered severe lead poisoning.
David Doherty 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 today (6 February) 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, now 26, has been 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 the diagnosis.
A subsequent investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that David 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 risks and symptoms of lead poisoning.
The court heard that workers should have worn full overalls and been provided with clean and dirty changing areas, with overalls bagged and laundered on site. Overalls 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.
David Sear, 59, of Theddlethorpe, near Mablethorpe, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 6(1) of the Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002 between 16 January 2010 and 13 October 2011 for failing to control the risk of lead exposure. He was fined £18,000 and ordered to pay costs of the same amount.
Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Lorraine Nicholls said:
“Mr Sear is the owner of a specialist business that has been operating for some 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 measures Mr Sear knew he should have had in place.
“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.”
Mr 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 friends 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.
“The first I knew anything about working safely with lead was when the Health and Safety Executive took my statement. I had no training and didn’t take any certificates in working with lead. I even used to go home in the clothes I’d 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.”
Information about working with lead is available at www.hse.gov.uk/lead
Notes to editors
1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice, promoting training, new or revised regulations and codes of practice, and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
2. Regulation 6(1) of the Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002 states: “Every employer shall ensure that the exposure of his employees to lead is either prevented or, where this is not reasonably practicable, adequately controlled.”