Pret A Manger has been fined £800,000 after one of its workers was left fearing for her life while stuck in one of its freezers.
Westminster City Council said the employee became trapped in the walk-in commercial freezer, which typically has its temperature set at -18C, for two and a half hours while working at the chain’s Victoria Coach Station shop on 29 July 2021.
The employee had to be treated for suspected hypothermia after she was found “in a state of distress” by a colleague.
Dressed in just jeans and a t-shirt, she had tried to keep warm by moving around but soon began to feel unwell.
She found her breathing was becoming restricted and she began to lose sensation in her thighs and feet.
She tried to tear up a cardboard box full of chocolate croissants to use as cover from the ventilator blowing out cold air but found that her hands were too cold to break it apart.
After she was rescued, an investigation found there was no suitable risk assessment for employees working in temperature-controlled environments.
Pret’s reporting system revealed there had been several call-outs relating to defective or frozen push buttons in the previous 19 months, including one occasion at the same remote kitchen in January 2020 when a worker had become stuck in the walk-in freezer after being unable to open the door from the inside.
On that occasion, the internal door release mechanism was not working.
The sandwich chain pleaded guilty to an offence contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 at Westminster Magistrates Court on Tuesday following an investigation by Westminster Council’s health and safety team.
Councillor Aicha 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.”
A Pret A Manger spokesperson said: “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 co-operated fully with Westminster City Council’s investigation.”
Press Association – Gwyn Wright