Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) has changed maintenance procedures at Europe's largest soft drinks plant after admitting that defective maintenance led to an accident whereby a worker suffered caustic cleaning solution burns, as trade union Unite hit out at the firm.
The horrific incident occurred at the firm's UK site in Wakefield, near Leeds (pictured), when one CCE employee stepped on a pipe full of hot caustic cleaning solution used to clean a machine that produced Coke.
According to Thompsons Solicitors, whose Leeds office staff investigated the incident on behalf of Unite the Union, a defective clamp securing the pipe then gave way, and another CCE employee, John Houghton, 56, from Huddersfield, had caustic acid sprayed in his face.
Houghton - who secured £6,000 compensation from CCE after the company admitted liability and settled out of court - was hospitalised and initially feared blindness after he was unable to see for three days.
Burn injuries left scarring
Although he regained his eyesight, Houghton has been left with burn injuries to his left shoulder and upper left leg that left scarring, and had to take four weeks off work.
Following the accident, Unite instructed Thompsons Solicitors to look into a possible compensation claim, and the legal firm's investigation revealed that Coca-Cola had failed to inspect the pipe and its fittings regularly.
Mr Houghton said he hoped CCE had learnt from the incident, and Karen Reay, regional secretary, Unite the Union, said: "Coca Cola as a multi-national company should known better than to allow inspections on equipment to lapse in this manner.”
Keely Goldup from Thompsons Solicitors represented Houghton. She told BeverageDaily.com: "The reason Coca Cola were liable is because they provided my client with defective work equipment. Under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, every employer shall ensure that work equipment is maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair."
She added: "The fact that the clamp connecting the pipe to the work equipment was defective was a clear indication that they had failed to comply with this regulation."
CCE 'proud' of Wakefield safety record
Asked what it was doing to ensure such an incident did not reoccur, a CCE spokeswoman told BeverageDaily.com that the company took employee well-being very seriously and had a 'safety first' culture.
“We continuously invest in our resources, processes and equipment to ensure that we minimise the risk of accidents happening and are proud of the strong safety record at Wakefield," she said.
"This was an isolated incident which was investigated thoroughly to ensure we understood what happened and then changed our maintenance procedures to ensure such an accident does not happen again.
“Clearly, we are pleased that John has recovered from this incident and is back at work at our site.”
The CCE website states that the firm's Wakefield site produces 6,000 cans of soft drinks per minute, and 3,200 PET bottles per minute; brands produced include Coca‑Cola, Coca‑Cola Zero, Diet Coke, Dr Pepper, Sprite, Lilt and Fanta.
*Article modified July 17 to clarify the fact the caustic refers to a strong 'base' but not to acids as initially stated.