An international utilities company has been fined after an agency worker suffered prolonged exposure to a hazardous chemical.

Laing O’Rourke Utilities Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after Peter Johnson, 48, from Exeter, suffered sore skin around his face after several weeks of exposure to isocyanate between July and August 2007. The chemical is the second largest cause of occupational asthma, and can also cause conjunctivitis, dermatitis, bronchitis and rhinitis.

Mr Johnson was exposed while repainting joints along a raised gas pipeline near Ivybridge, Devon. He was driving an open-cabbed vehicle with an attached sprayer which was spraying paint containing isocyanate.

Torquay Magistrates’ Court heard how Laing O’Rourke Utilities had failed to protect Mr Johnson, by ensuring exposure to isocyanate was prevented or adequately controlled.

The open cab meant Mr Johnson was periodically exposed to the paint aerosol as it was being sprayed. The company failed to provide him with proper protective equipment, and so he was likely to have been exposed to up to ten times the workplace exposure limit for isocyanate.

When his skin started to feel sore, Mr Johnson filed a complaint with HSE, which then launched its investigation. He has since been referred to a dermatologist and continues to receive treatment.

Speaking after the prosecution, HSE inspector, Jonathan Harris, said:

“Isocyanate is subject to workplace exposure limits because of its ability to damage workers’ health. The company was required by law to ensure those at risk of exposure were adequately protected yet it clearly failed to do so by failing to provide a safe system of work.

“Although the type of work meant there was no alternative to the type of paint being used, it could have been applied with a brush, instead of by spraygun, thereby removing the risk of exposing Mr Johnson to an air contaminant containing isocyanate.”

Laing O’Rourke Utilities Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 7(1) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and was ordered to pay a £4,000 fine and £15,062 in costs.