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£100,000 fine for Thatcham-based Xtrac Ltd for health and safety breaches

A MAJOR local employer has been fined £100,000 for health and safety breaches which caused a staff member permanent, irreversible damage.

Thatcham-based engineering giant Xtrac Ltd had previously admitted failing to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of employees at its Gables Way headquarters in Kennet Park.

On Thursday, May 20, a district judge sitting at Reading Magistrates' Court heard how the failings had permanently injured one veteran employee, Roger Ekanayake.

A court room
A court room

Ashley Hall, prosecuting on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) told how, on April 24, 2019, Mr Ekanayake was splashed on the face and upper body with metalworking fluid while cleaning a grinding machine.

Mr Hall said: "He suffered a serious and painful reaction. His skin became broken and oozed."

A doctor diagnosed allergic contact dermatitis, a permanent allergy meaning Mr Ekanayake could no longer continue in his job.

An HSE investigation found Xtrac Ltd had failed to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment to identify the potential for exposure to the hazardous chemicals.

In addition, the court heard, the company had not implemented necessary controls to prevent skin contact and a supervisor did not ensure appropriate protective equipment was being used.

This was particularly relevant in this case as the company was already aware Mr Ekanayake had a history of dermatitis.

Mr Hall concluded: "This was a significant case of actual harm - an irreversible and permanent health condition."

Daniel Whittaker QC, for Xtrac Ltd, pointed out that the firm had co-operated fully with the HSE investigation; that it had since upgraded its safety procedures and had no previous convictions.

He said the company management harboured "genuinely felt sorrow" for Mr Ekanayake, a valued employee for more than 20 years.

Mr Whittaker said the "well run company" was "the world's leading supplier of high performance transmissions for top level motor sport" and a "British success story recognised as such at Government level".

In addition to the £100,000 fined, district judge Sophie Toms ordered the company to pay £639.59 costs plus a statutory victim services surcharge of £170.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Hall said: “Dermal risks from metalworking fluids are well known within the industry and there are simple and effective controls available to prevent contact with the skin.

“This serious health condition could have been prevented if the company had carried out the required risk assessment and implemented the necessary control measures, including suitable personal protective equipment, particularly gloves.

“All of these risks and controls are described in HSE and industry guidance, which is widely available.”

Xtrac chief executive Adrian Moore, said afterwards: “We apologise unreservedly to our employee for failing to meet our legal obligations, and acknowledge and appreciate the judge’s comments.

"Since that incident two years ago, the company has strengthened its processes and systems, implemented enhanced health surveillance, procured an alternative metalworking fluid, provided bespoke health and safety training for key personnel, and upgraded its standards for personal protective equipment.

“Safety is a core value in our business, and we recognise our moral and legal responsibilities to provide a safe environment for our employees, contractors, and visitors. We continually invest in the latest technology and training to prevent accidents and provide employees with the knowledge to make safe choices.

“We actively encourage all our employees, many of whom are shareholders, to be involved in our drive for continual improvement. And we have increased investment in health and safety programmes, including additional training and the recruitment of a full-time HSE manager.

“This last year, the global pandemic has further underlined the importance of a safe workplace. The team has responded magnificently, and I would like to thank them all for their continued hard work and flexibility in difficult times.”

Xtrac built its hi-tech, 88,000 sq ft factory in Kennet Park in 2000.

It supplies many top-level sectors of motor sport, including Formula 1, and has expanded into areas such as marine and aerospace engineering.

Last April Xtrac won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the category for Innovation for its development of an Integrated Lightweight Electric Vehicle gearbox range spearheaded by chief executive Mr Moore.

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