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Western Isles Council fined £12,000 after a boy was injured by hazardous chemicals

Western Isles Council will administer the fund, which aims to help charities in need swiftly access emergency cash.
Western Isles Council will administer the fund, which aims to help charities in need swiftly access emergency cash.

Western Isles Council has been fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £6,000 in compensation after a boy was injured by hazardous chemicals used to clean piers.

The ruling comes three years after the local authority paid out after a child’s clothes were damaged by the same kind of chemical at the same location.

In the latest incident, a nine-year-old boy was injured and required hospital treatment when he and his 11-year-old sister went looking for crabs while on holiday in the Uig district on Lewis.

The authority yesterday pleaded guilty to a single charge under health and safety laws of failing to maintain a safe system of work so members of the public were not exposed to health and safety risks.

Sheriff David Sutherland criticised the fact it “took for a young boy to be injured” for the council to put measures in place, adding it was “worrying and indicative of the council’s failure” to protect members of the public.

Ironically, the council adopted a safety policy for its own personnel but not for the families, fishermen and boat owners using the pier, Stornoway Sheriff Court was told.

The court was told council staff failed to properly wash down the quayside at Valtos after cleaning off slippery algae with sodium hypochlorite on the morning of 11 July last year.

Later that morning, the two children staying in a rented holiday cottage were affected when they went onto the pier.

Procurator fiscal Shona McJannett told the court the injury to the boy was “entirely foreseeable” as the risks were “obvious” and known to the council.

The boy laid down on the quayside steps to lower his crabbing kit into the water and felt a “singing sensation” across his left leg.

His pants were disintegrating and tracksuit and fleece became discoloured from the chemical and red and brown patches appeared on his legs.

His sister suffered pain and redness on her knees.

For the rest of his holiday the boy had to go back to the hospital every few days to get his dressings changed and was referred to a burns specialist on his return home.

He had “trouble walking for a week and had to keep his leg elevated, ” said Ms McJannett.

The court was told how a seven year old girl was affected on the same steps at the pier in August 2014 when he clothing changed colour and disintegrated by the same kind of chemical. The council later compensated her for the damaged clothes.

Council lawyer Iain MacLean said the authority’s chief executive, Malcolm Burr, wrote to the boy’s parents, “accepting responsibility and apologising”.

The council still use the chemical for cleaning public piers but has reviewed its practices and taken action to minimise risk of such an incident reoccurring, he said.

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