A maintenance worker is suing his bosses for up to £10,000 after he was nearly blinded while pruning a CACTUS in a shopping centre.
Carl Woodbridge, 22, was sprayed with toxic sap after he sliced into a branch on a 30ft tall cactus at ‘thecentre:MK’ in Milton Keynes, Bucks., in October 2008.
The liquid squirted from the plant, situated in an open walkway in the centre, into his right eye, neck, face and arm.
Mr Woodbridge fell to the ground in agony with blisters to his face and body and a burned cornea which caused blindness.
He was rushed to Milton Keynes Hospital where his eye was put under a tap for two hours before doctors scraped off a layer of latex-type film which was glued to his eyeball.
A health and safety investigation revealed Mr Woodbridge, a technician for Ambius, a subsidiary of Rentokil Initial UK Ltd, was handed ”no protective clothing” and given ”inadequate” training.
His eyesight gradually returned but he must wear specialist glasses to protect his eye from the sun and bright lights.
Rentokill Initial UK Ltd was fined a total of £12,000 and ordered to pay £4,000 costs after admitting health and safety breaches at Milton Keynes Magistrates’ Court last Friday.
Injured Mr Woodbridge was forced to take six weeks off work and is now seeking thousands of pounds in compensation.
Carl, of Waltham Cross, Herts. now working as a roofer, said: ”My supervisor said I had to go and it was said in the way if I didn’t I’d probably get sacked.
”The shopping centre was told they were getting an expert in tropical plants – I’d only worked for them for three months.
”I thought it would just be a few pot plants but these cacti were 30 foot high. I had no idea what I was working with.
”When I got to the last one it sprayed sap into my eye and I fell to my knees in agony. It was horrific burning it felt like there was a fire under my eyeball.
”I poured a whole bottle of water on my face but it didn’t do anything and I couldn’t open eye. I had two litres of saline poured over my eye and put in an ambulance.
”My eye was under a tap for two hours to wash it out at hospital before they discovered the catcus sprayed a latex-type film across my eyeball so doctors had to scrape it off instead.
”I couldn’t see for a week and after that it was all blurry for ages. I thought I might lose my sight.”
Mr Woodbridge was dispatched by Ambius to the shopping centre on October 9 2008 despite finishing his shift to prune the cacti after a branch had fallen to the ground.
He climbed aboard a cherry-picker to trim the plants and was given no protective clothing or warned of any dangers.
His sight gradually returned but must wear anti-glare glasses to protect his eyes from the sun and bright lights.
Mum Lesley Woodbridge, 56, said: ”He couldn’t open his eye and couldn’t bear any light. When he was released from hospital he had to lie on the sofa in pain with all the lights off.
”The chemical in the sap burned his cornea and he couldn’t see full stop. Normally he had 20/20 vision but he couldn’t read or see road signs when he opened his eye.”
A Milton Keynes Council investigation ruled Rentokil Initial UK Ltd failed to provide adequate information, instruction and training to ensure the safety of its staff carrying out their work.
The pest control giants admitted breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act and one offence under Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
Bosses also admitted one offence under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 Regulation 3(1)(b) as they failed to notify the Local Authority of the accident in the prescribed time.
A Milton Keynes Council environmental health spokesman said: “This was an entirely preventable situation if the work had been properly planned and implemented.
“As a result the employee suffered considerable physical discomfort as a result of not receiving adequate training or guidance.”
Magistrates fined the company £8,000 for failing to provide a safe working system, £2,000 for failing to ensure working areas were safe and £2,000 for failing to train staff in noticing hazards.
Rentokil was also ordered to pay £3,967.26 and £15 victim surcharge.
A spokesman for Rentokil Initial UK Ltd said Mr Woodbridge was contracted to water and tend for the shopping centre’s plants and foliage.
Mr Woodbridge answered an ”emergency call-out” from the shopping centre to prune the cactus, the spokesman added.
He said: ”Ambius takes its Health and Safety obligations very seriously and has no other health and safety convictions.
”It had prepared risk assessments for day to day work but failed to do so for the work carried out by Carl Woodbridge because he was answering an emergency request from the centre and not part of his contractual obligations.”