The workers were exposed to toxic lead paint during refurbishment work on the Nab Tower lighthouse in the Solent.
Russell Leggett from Bassett and Robert Peach from Hamble-le-Rice both required hospital treatment after inhaling dust and fumes when steel coated in lead paint was cut into and removed from the structure in July 2013. Blood tests showed traces of lead far exceeded safe levels. Robert Peach had a reading of 97 and Russell Leggett 110, against a safe level of 60.
Both men were employed by subcontractor Four Tees Engineering Ltd. They required intensive treatment and months of monitoring before their blood returned to safe levels.
Three BAM Nuttall workers were also exposed and put at risk, although their tests proved inconclusive.
BAM Nuttall Ltd and Four Tees Engineering Ltd were both prosecuted after an investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) identified failings with control measures surrounding the steel cutting work.
Portsmouth Crown Court heard on Friday (12th December) that BAM Nuttall was responsible for a project to remove weathered steel from the Nab Tower, a former military control installation that now acts as a Trinity House beacon for vessels navigating the waters around the Isle of Wight and the Solent.
The work involved removing sections of steel using industrial torches, a job that was subcontracted to Four Tees, with workers from both companies involved.
Despite knowing the steel was coated in lead paint, BAM Nuttall failed to apply this knowledge and assess the need for control measures against lead exposure, HSE said. Four Tees was equally culpable because it also overlooked suitable control measures, and also failed to ensure its employees had suitable medical surveillance whilst working with a potentially harmful substance, which can permanently damage vital nerves and organs.
BAM Nuttall, of Camberley, Surrey, was fined a total of £56,000 and ordered to pay £6,165 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and two breaches of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992.
Four Tees Engineering Ltd, of Dewer Close, Segensworth West, Fareham, was fined £14,000 with £2,081 costs for single breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act and Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002.
After the hearing, HSE inspector Andrew Moore said: “The Nab Tower exposure was serious and demonstrates the need to properly assess and guard against potential inhalation of lead fumes and dust.
“The paint coating the steel was known to contain lead and it should have been handled with care from day one. Instead both companies allowed a number of unsafe practices, including eating, drinking and smoking, to continue unchallenged at the site that fuelled potential contamination.
“Not that the workers would have known because there was no surveillance in place to monitor levels of lead in their blood and flag when the exposure had occurred.
“Duty holders should always err on the side of caution when cutting, stripping or grinding painted material and assume it contains lead unless there is good evidence to prove otherwise. That means having adequate decontamination, surveillance and other control measures in place.”