Car parts firm fined £1.6million over ‘serious’ health and safety breaches

The Faltec factory at East Boldon.
The Faltec factory at East Boldon.
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A company which was responsible for a number of serious safety failings which injured or hurt five workers has been ordered to pay £1.6million.

Faltec Europe Ltd - which is based in East Boldon - left a number of workers in induced comas after a potentially lethal outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease and a "fireball" explosion.

A court heard how the car parts manufacturer had a "woeful and flagrant disregard" for health and safety between October 2014 and October 2015, when a series of life-threatening incidents took places.

The company admitted a string of "grave" health and safety breaches following an outbreak of the potentially deadly disease at their factory.

Newcastle Crown Court heard how two members of staff, two agency workers and one nearby resident were victims of the Legionella outbreak, with one being left in an induced coma for 10 days.

Whilst investigations surrounding the Legionnaire’s case were ongoing, a 19-year-old employee was left with first degree burns and placed in a coma after a flocking machine exploded next to him.

The court heard the machine in question was shipped from Faltec's Japanese holding company and installed by their engineers at a cost £90,000 cheaper than an EU standard machine would have been.

Last week, prosecutor Ben Mills told the court: "There were five cases of people who had contracted Legionnaire’s disease.

“It can be fatal, it is like a form of pneumonia and you contract it by inhaling small droplets of water.

"People were put into induced comas and lost a lot of their hair."

Mr Mills explained how just one month after the factory was given the all clear in September 2015, the explosion took place leaving the young employee, who had only worked there for eight months, hospitalised.

He added: "The failure reflects a systematic failure in their system of work and training of their employees. There was no proper training for anyone.

"The 19-year-old employee saw that a part had fallen off of a roller on the machine. He bent down, and as he did so he must have touched the live electrostatic grid. That caused an explosion. It came at him as a ball of fire.

The court heard how in 2006, when the company was known as Hashimoto, a worker had died after flammable chemicals spilled on his work clothes.

Seven years later, in 2013, the company was forced to pay £20,000 to another worker after he was blinded in one eye when a hose filled with compressed air smashed into his face, breaking his cheekbone.

In March this year, defence barrister David Hercock entered guilty pleas on behalf of the company for two charges under Sections 3 and 33 of the Health and Safety Work act and one charge of failing to ensure health and safety in relation to risks of fire and explosion.

He said: "The company expresses deep regret that its employees sustained injury. It has taken and is continuing to take steps to improve its procedures.

"We accept that there were deficiencies but concerted steps were being made to address these."

He told the court how the company, which has 573 employees with a turnover of £39m, spent over £2m on health and safety in just 14 months.

Recorder James Wood, QC, said that it was "merciful" that no one was killed.

He said: "We do not know how many people were infected with Legionnaire’s Disease, but we know that five people succumbed to it.

"It was more good fortune that none succumbed to death. The period of failings is significant and runs into a number of years.

"As a result of agreeing to the lesser price for the flocking machine the defending company was well aware that it was taking on a heavy burden.

"Listening to the evidence I conclude that there was a very real risk greater than sustained by the young victim.

"The defending company has allowed breaches to subsist over a long period of time.

"I believe this situation was able to occur through incompetence and a lack of training.