Pret a Manger has been fined £800,000 after a member of staff was trapped in sub-zero temperatures for more than two hours.
Pret last week pleaded guilty to an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 after an investigation revealed there was no suitable risk assessment for employees working in temperature-controlled environments.
The case followed an incident at the Victoria Coach Station shop in July 2021, when a member of staff dressed only in jeans and a t-shirt became trapped in a walk-in commercial freezer typically set to run at around -18°C. British Baker understands that the freezer’s emergency release mechanism was not working because of a build-up of ice.
Westminster Magistrates Court was told the worker tried to keep warm by moving around but after some time began to feel unwell from the cold, finding her breathing was becoming restricted and that she was losing sensation in her thighs and feet. To try and keep warm, she tore up a cardboard box to provide cover from the ventilator blowing out cold air but found her hands were too cold and painful to break the box apart.
The worker was found by a colleague after two and a half hours, in a state of distress and believing she was going to die. She was taken to hospital where she was treated for suspected hypothermia. After some time off work, she is now working back at Pret as a team leader.
An investigation by Westminster City Council’s Health and Safety team found there was no suitable risk assessment for employees working in temperature-controlled environments. The reporting system used by Pret revealed that there had been a number of call-outs relating to defective or frozen push buttons in the previous 19 months, including a previous occasion at the same remote kitchen in January 2020 when a worker had become trapped in the walk-in freezer.
Pret a Manger pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay the council its full costs, and a victim surcharge. When passing sentence, the district judge decided on a starting point of £1.6m, reducing this to £800,000 following credit for an early guilty plea and mitigation on behalf of the company.
“The shocking details of this case show a lapse of due care and attention,” said councillor Aicha Less, Westminster City Council deputy leader. “This incident shows that overlooking basic safety measures can have the most serious consequences.
“We hope the significant fine awarded in court acts as a warning to all businesses and prevents anything similar from ever happening again.”
Commenting following the case, Pret said it was ”incredibly sorry” for the worker’s experience and that it understands 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,” addeded a spokesperson. ”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.”