Contractor ordered to pay out over £25,000 after breaching Safety Act

O’Keefe construction has been ordered to pay over £25,000 in fines and legal costs after a teenager received serious burns to his legs while working at a depot in Kent.

The case against the firm was heard at a sitting of Sevenoaks Magistrates’ Court on February 15th last.

The court heard how an 18 year old man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had been working on a job at the Sevenoaks depot on 26 October, 2009.

He was spray painting a lighting tower when he spilled paint thinner on his trousers.

When he walked across the shed to go to his locker and find a change of clothes, he walked near a gas burner which was being used to heat the workshop.

His clothes caught fire and he ran outside where he was hosed down by colleagues and had the flames extinguished.

The man suffered burns to both his legs and his left arm and hand and required several skin grafts. He spent six days in intensive care and a further ten recuperating. He was also unable to work for six months.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the spray shed had several regulatory failings, such as paint containers with no lids not being stored in fire-resistant boxes.

The investigation found that the firm should have been aware that the mixing of paint and thinners in the shed would lead to a potentially explosive atmosphere, so a gas burner should not have been used in the same space.

O’Keefe Construction was fined £20,000 after pleading guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act and was ordered to pay additional costs of £6,329.

Speaking after the case, HSE inspector Caroline Penwill said: “The process of risk management involves assessing the risks that arise in the workplace and putting sensible health and safety measures in place to control them.

“In this case, the company had assessed the risks from paint spraying and had identified measures to control the risks, but had not put them in place. It is important that the findings of a risk assessment are acted upon. Had the company done so, then this terrible incident could have been prevented.”