A company which put employees in danger by allowing them to work in confined spaces without any relevant training or safety measures has been fined £30,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £12,348.

SAPA Profiles UK Ltd, which makes aluminium profiles, regularly sent workers into a 5.5 metre deep pit to retrieve waste aluminium that had collected at the bottom.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) visited the company's premises in Tibshelf, Derbyshire in May 2008 and served an improvement notice after discovering that work in the pit was not carried out in accordance with a safe system of work. The company complied with the notice and developed a safe system of work, including providing training to some of their workers, but in August 2011 a member of staff contacted the HSE to raise concerns about the way in which confined spaces work was carried out.

During a follow-up visit, HSE inspectors found the company had a written safe system of work, but it was not being adhered to. The policy stated staff should be trained when either working in the pit or observing from the top, however that training was never provided to a number of the workers involved.

In addition, some of the harnesses intended to be worn by workers when accessing the pit had not been thoroughly examined to ensure that they were safe to use. It was also found that a gas analyser, used to ensure that the atmosphere in the pit was safe, had not been calibrated to ensure its accuracy.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Scott Wynne said, “Every time someone went into the pit, a permit to work had to be completed giving details of how the work was to be carried out. Of 147 permits examined, 97 had clear issues yet those issues were never identified or followed up. Conditions in the pit are very unpleasant. It is a hot, humid, dark, confined space where people could easily have become disorientated or overcome by the heat. There was a significant risk to workers from oxygen deficiency and from other substances entering the pit.”

He continued, “It was unacceptable of the company to put staff at risk in this way, especially when bearing in mind the previous enforcement action taken by the HSE on precisely the same issue just three years earlier. The company had a duty to make sure its written procedures were being followed, but it failed in that duty. It is extremely fortunate that no serious incidents have occurred in relation to this work.”

For more information, see:

  • L101 – Safe work in confined spaces;
  • INDG258 – Safe work in confined spaces.