Last reviewed 31 May 2021

Xtrac Ltd, an automotive engineering company, has been fined £100,000 after a worker developed allergic contact dermatitis, a serious and irreversible dermal condition, as a result of occupational exposure to metalworking fluid while cleaning a grinding machine.

Reading Magistrates’ Court heard how the employee was splashed with metalworking fluid on the face and upper body while cleaning a grinding machine at the company’s site in Thatcham As a result of the contact the employee had an allergic reaction, consisting of a very painful burning sensation, inflamed, broken and oozing skin, and was diagnosed with allergic contact dermatitis.

Allergic contact dermatitis is an immunological response to a sensitising substance (allergen). Once a person has developed an allergy (is “sensitised”), even small amounts of the allergen will trigger the condition. By then, the only remedy is to prevent further exposure.

The employee received medical advice that they could no longer continue in their job as it was a risk to their health.

Investigating Health and Safety Executive (HSE) officers found the company had failed to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment to identify the potential for exposure to the chemical, despite dermal risks from metalworking fluids being well known within industry. The company had not implemented necessary simple and effective controls, such as through the provision of guarding or personal protective equipment to prevent skin contact. This was particularly important in this case as the company was already aware the employee had a history of dermatitis.

Xtrac pleaded guilty to breaching s.2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974. The company was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £639.59.