Meldreth firm fined hundreds of thousands for risking staff safety

Arran Ayres from Meldreth has appeared at Cambridge Magistrates' Court today.

Etex Exteriors has been ordered to pay a hefty fine for breaching health and safety regulations at it's Meldreth site - Credit: Archant

A Meldreth factory must pay out hundreds of thousands of pounds after putting workers in danger by breaching health and safety regulations. 

Etex Exteriors UK Limited - for which the address given in the court documents was Lichfield Road in Burton-upon-Trent,  Staffordshire - was charged with four health and safety breaches.

All the offences happened at what is now Meldreth’s Etex site in Whaddon Road. Etex Exteriors admitted all charges at the first opportunity and was convicted on May 14, 2021 at Peterborough Magistates’ Court in two cases involving a total of four counts investigated by the Health and Safety Executive. 

Full credit was received by Etex for its positive mitigation and its early guilty pleas.

The sentencing took place yesterday at the same court. 

Etex's Meldreth site in Whaddon Road. 

Etex's Meldreth site in Whaddon Road - Credit: Google Street View

The first charge, contravening health and safety regulation, relates to a time on or before September 1, 2017 when failings led to employees exposed to the risks associated with working on electrical switchgear.

The firm was fined £266,600, and ordered to pay £170 surcharge to fund victims services, and pay court costs of 12,297.78.

The defendant's guilty plea was taken into account when imposing sentence.

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The second charge was that on or before September 1, 2017, the employer failed to ensure danger was prevented by maintaining all electrical systems so far as reasonably practicable. There was no separate fine for this charge. 

The third was of contravening a health and safety regulation on or before July 14, 2016, in that it failed to ensure that its employees were not exposed to vibration above an exposure limit value while conducting cleaning operations on the Hatschek machines.

For this, Etex was fined £15,500 with the guilty plea taken into account when imposing sentence.

The fourth charge, of contravening health and safety, relates to a period on or before July 14, 2016, where the employer carried out work which was likely to expose its employees to vibration at or above an exposure action value that breached regulations, in that it failed to ensure that such employees were placed under suitable health surveillance.

There was no separate penalty for this. 

The total amount that Etex has been ordered to pay is £294,564.78.

The Meldreth factory was previously an Atlas Stone Company site and has a long history in the village in many guises. 

Atlas was founded in 1902 to pioneer and develop the manufacture of products containing cement. In 1928 the company established a factory at Meldreth.

In May 1975 The Atlas Stone Company was taken over by Belgian firm, Eternit and merged with Marley Building Materials Limited  to become Marley Eternit from July 2005 to January 2019. Eternit is now part of the Etex Group.

The Meldreth site specialises in fibre cement profiled sheeting for agricultural and commercial buildings

Etex is registered at Wellington Road, Burton-upon-Trent.

According to Companies House, most directors of the firm from the time resigned on January 2, 2019.

These were David Speakman, appointed March 7, 2005, Dr Andrew McKnight, appointed February 1, 2017, Michel Klein, appointed March 13, 2017, and Benoit Stainier, appointed March 13, 2017.

Nathan Rickinson was appointed director on October 27, 2014 and resigned on
February 1, 2017.

New directors were appointed on January 2, 2019 -  Jayne Arkell is the only director appointed then who remains in the role. The second director is Johan Leo, who was appointed on July 23, 2020.

Etex’s website states: “We have implemented rigorous safety procedures in all our locations to identify, prevent and avoid accidents. 

“We invest in diverse safety programmes and offer training courses to instil procedures into daily routines.

“As awareness is the key to behavioural change, we highlight the need for constant vigilance.”

A statement from Etex said: “We confirm that Etex Exteriors UK has been involved in a legal proceeding related to two different work-related incidents that took place in 2016 and 2017. 

“These occurred at our Meldreth plant in the UK manufacturing fibre cement products employing 91 people. Etex Exteriors UK has plead guilty, resulting in a conviction.

“The safety of its employees is the number one priority at Etex. We deeply regret that these work-related incidents have taken place in our Meldreth plant. We have put in place remedial measures to ensure lessons have been learned and that such incidents don’t occur in the future. 

“These last years, we have reached key milestones in this field with historically low safety numbers in 2020.

“We have been fully cooperating in the legal proceeding, and we will continue to support all the involved stakeholders.”

Extex has confirmed that they will pay the fine.