Hazards 107, July-September 2009
Wind turbine blademaker Vestas Blades UK Ltd was the subject of a green collar by the health and safety police. It was fined £10,000 in June 2009 and ordered to pay £25,000 costs after 13 employees developed occupational dermatitis. The workers had suffered symptoms including severe itching and swellings and rashes on their arms, wrists, hands and face, caused by epoxy resins used in slapdash fashion in the production of the blades. Workers could also face ergonomic hazards from the construction and maintenance of wind turbines.
And they will face one other traditional hazard; bad management.
Vestas Blades, a world leader in production of wind turbines, was supposed to provide the jobs of tomorrow. Instead, in July 2009 it provided the redundancy notices of today, for 600 plus staff at its Newport, Isle of Wight factory. In a distinctly ungreen move, it will instead ship production to the US and China – and if UK government plans to expand wind power are to be realised, it will have to import the blades right back again because Vestas was the only blade manufacturer based in the UK.
Isle of Wight Magistrates’ Court heard the company had also spent £400,000 on safety measure to prevent a reoccurrence and substantial legal bills and costs, associated with the two-and-a-half year Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation.
After the June 2009 case, HSE emphasised the importance of preventing exposure to hazardous substances after the 13 employees suffered dermatitis caused by exposure to epoxy resin between 2005 and 2007. HSE inspector Roger Upfold said: “Symptoms included severe itching and swellings and rashes on their arms, wrists, hands and face, with the effects sometimes lasting for days. As a result some had to stop working for Vestas Blades UK Ltd.”
The resins formed part of a gel coating, which was pumped on to a mould to form the outer surface of the blade. A team of workers spread the gel evenly with rollers before the liquid was able to cure. But the operators were put at risk as the substance often splashed and there were other routine opportunities for skin exposure. HSE inspectors visited the factory in February 2007 and found that workers had not been provided with any face protection other than safety glasses. They also discovered that the firm was not monitoring its staff to ensure that they were wearing the safety equipment that had been issued.
The company was served with an improvement notice in July 2007 for failing to put in place measures to sufficiently protect employees from dangerous substances. The firm was fined £5,000 for each of two breaches of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2007 (COSHH) and ordered to pay £25,000 costs.