A South Tyneside highways sign specialist has been prosecuted for putting workers’ health at risk by exposing them to known hazardous fumes.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) launched an investigation at Variable Message Signs Limited after an Inspector visited the company’s premises in Hebburn and identified serious failings in the way the company was controlling the risk of employees developing occupational asthma during soldering work.
South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court heard that soldering was carried out by test engineers carrying out repairs using rosin based solder flux, the fumes of which are known to be a significant cause of occupational asthma in the UK.
Workers soldered for up to four hours a day with no extraction system in place, despite previous advice from HSE. Magistrates were told the company had failed to consider whether an alternative, less hazardous solder could be used and the control measures needed when using rosin based solder flux. The company has since moved to the use of rosin-free solder.
The company also failed to provide appropriate health surveillance, a legal requirement when employees are exposed to substances capable of causing occupational asthma.
Variable Message Signs Ltd, of Monkton Business Park, North Mill Lane, Hebburn, was fined a total of £5,500 and ordered to pay £4,291.25 in costs after pleading guilty to three breaches of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.
Speaking after the case, HSE Inspector Fiona McGarry, commented: “The fume from rosin based solder flux is one of the most significant causes of occupational asthma in the UK and once developed even small exposures to fume can lead to asthma attacks and the condition is irreversible."