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Pret a Manger fined £800,000 after employee trapped in walk-in freezer

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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

Sandwich chain Pret a Manger has been fined £800,000 following an incident at their Victoria Coach Station branch, where an employee was trapped inside a walk-in freezer for two hours.

The employee became stuck when the internal door mechanism failed. She had entered the freezer, which typically had its temperature set at -18°C, wearing jeans and a t-shirt.

In an attempt to block the vent blowing out cold air, she tried to tear up a box of chocolate croissants, but the loss of sensation in her hands made this impossible.

She also tried to stay warm by moving around, but by the time she was discovered two hours later, she was struggling to breathe. Her legs and feet had gone numb, and she was in a state of distress.

The employee was taken to hospital and treated for hypothermia. Pret a Manger said it was “incredibly sorry”.

An investigation by Westminster Council’s health and safety team found that the company had no suitable risk assessment for employees working in temperature-controlled environments. Pret’s internal reporting system had recorded several instances within the last 19 months, where the push button to exit the freezer had become defective or frozen.

This included a similar incident in January 2020, when another worker had also become stuck in the freezer, because the internal door release mechanism had failed.

Pret a Manger pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and were fined £800,000 plus £23,667 in costs.

Following the ruling, Councillor Aisha Less deputy leader and cabinet member for communities, public protection and licensing, said: “The shocking details of this case show a lapse of due care and attention. This incident shows that overlooking basic safety measures can have the most serious consequences.

“We hope the significant fine awarded in court acts to all businesses as a warning, preventing this from ever happening again.

“Westminster city council will continue to work with businesses to make sure the highest levels of health and safety are consistently maintained and educate staff in safe practice.”

Pret a Manger also issued a statement, saying: “We are incredibly sorry for our colleague’s experience and understand how distressing this must have been.

“We have carried out a full review and have worked with the manufacturer to develop a solution to stop this from happening again.

“Following the incident, we have revisited all our existing systems and where appropriate, enhanced these processes, and have cooperated fully with Westminster city council’s investigation.”

For answers to questions on health and safety in retail, visit BrAInbox today where you can find answers to questions like What safety devices can be used in low-temperature cold rooms in the event of entrapment?

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