British sandwich and coffee chain Pret A Manger has been handed an £800K fine after one of its employees got trapped in a freezer for close to three hours.
Westminster Magistrates Court heard how the staff member was wearing just jeans and a T-shirt when she got stuck in a walk-in freezer at the chain’s Victoria coach station store, which typically had its temperature set at -18C, in July 2021.
The employee described losing all sensation in her thighs and feet and had to be treated for suspected hypothermia after she was eventually found by a colleague.
“To try and keep warm, she tore up a cardboard box containing chocolate croissants to use as cover from the ventilator blowing out cold air but found that her hands were too cold and painful to break the box apart,” the Council wrote. After she was rescued, an investigation found there was no suitable risk assessment for employees working in temperature-controlled environments.
According to reports, an investigation by the Council’s health and safety team found that Pret didn’t have a suitable risk assessment for employees working in temperature-controlled environments. It also found that the UK chain had received other callouts related to defective or frozen push buttons in the previous 19 months, including one at the same store in January 2020 when a worker was trapped in the walk-in freezer after the internal door-release mechanism broke.
On Tuesday (Aug. 29), 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.”
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.”
As of December 2022, Pret had around 550 stores, with the vast majority in the UK, but also in other markets including America, France, Dubai, and Hong Kong.