Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar has been fined and told to improve its health and safety practices after a boy suffered chemical burns while playing on the pier at Valtos last summer.
A spokesman for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said: “"The Comhairle pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and promptly investigated the incident and reported it to the Health and Safety Executive.
"The Comhairle co-operated fully with the HSE's investigation and took the appropriate remedial action.
"The Comhairle apologised to the family for this regrettable incident".
A Health and Safety Executive investigation led to a court case, which was heard this Tuesday (July 24th) at Stornoway Sheriff Court.
The Court heard how, on July 11th 2017, employees of the local authority had cleaned the slipway and steps of Valtos pier in Uig using sodium hypochlorite.
Sodium hypochlorite is the main active ingredient in bleach and is based on chlorine – the same chemical used in an extremely diluted form in swimming pools. It is an effective cleaning chemical, but touching it can cause injury and the fumes can also be harmful. It’s always recommended that it is kept away from children.
Later that day two children were crabbing, lying on the steps of the pier, when one of the children felt a stinging sensation across his left leg. The child noticed a white substance on his trousers and his skin developed red and brown patches. The children returned to their holiday home and the child was showered by his mother before he was taken to hospital by his father. The hospital confirmed the child had sustained a chemical burn from the sodium hypochlorite.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that due to the Council’s failure to wash away the solution, or to cordon off the area, the children were able to access the area. The investigation also found the risk assessment in place did not consider there was a risk to members of the public.
Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay a compensation order of £6,000.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Kim Munro said: “This incident could so easily have been avoided by simply carrying out correct control measures and safe working practices. Employers should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”
Concerns have since been raised locally about the effect of the cleaning practice on public safety and the environment. One Valtos resident said: “Loads of kids hang out down at the pier all the time and all these chemicals are going into the sea. Crabs that come into contact with the steps just died for days after.”
(Comhairle nan Eilean Siar comments have been added since this article was first posted)