Employees including one who was pregnant, of Electrical Waste Recycling Group, were poisoned when ventilation systems failed at its recycling plant.
The firm recycles WEEE including fluorescent light tubes containing mercury and TV sets and monitors containing lead (see MRW story).
Bradford Crown Court heard (February 5) that 20 employees had levels of mercury in their system “above UK guidance levels”.
Five of the employees showed “extremely high levels” following the exposure which happened between October 2007 and August 2008.
The firm was fined £140,000 and ordered to pay £35,127 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
As well as three separate breaches of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, and one breach of the Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002.
Company director Craig Thompson, was also fined £5,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 7 (1) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.
Several workers had reported ill health as a result of the exposure, including a pregnant worker who was concerned that her unborn baby was at risk.
After the hearing Health and Safety Executive inspector Jeanne Morton said: “This is a shocking case involving a large number of employees, many of them young and vulnerable, who were suddenly faced with the worrying possibility of damage to their long-term health.
“The risks associated with handling toxic substances like mercury have been known for generations, so it is all the more unacceptable that something like this has happened.
“The company failed to see the risks created by their recycling work and failed to develop effective plans for safe working. They also did nothing to check their workers’ health after exposure.
“Workers have a right to expect a reasonable level of protection in the workplace, and employers have a legal duty to provide it.”