Pret A Manger handed £800K fine after 'distressed' employee is trapped in freezer

Credit: AP

A Pret A Manger worker was left "distressed" after being trapped in a -18C freezer, wearing just jeans and a t-shirt.

The coffee and sandwich chain was hit with a £800,000 fine following the incident, Westminster City Council said.

The woman became trapped in the walk-in commercial freezer while she was working at Pret's Victoria Coach Station shop on July 29, 2021.

After the two-and-a-half hour ordeal, she had to be treated for suspected hypothermia.

She tried to tear up a cardboard box full of chocolate croissants to cover a ventilator blowing icy air, but her hands were too cold to break it apart.

Wearing just jeans and a t-shirt, she attempted to keep warm by moving around but soon began to feel unwell.

By the time she was found by a colleague, her breathing became restricted and she started losing sensation in her thighs and feet.

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.

This included one occasion at the same remote kitchen in January 2020 when another 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 plead 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.

Westminster council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communities and Public Protection Aicha Less. Credit: Westminster City Council

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.”

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