Pret A Manger was hit with a hefty £800,000 fine after a staff member endured a harrowing experience, getting trapped in a walk-in freezer.
The incident unfolded in July 2021, seeing an employee stuck for two and a half agonising hours in a commercial freezer set at a biting -18C. Based at the Victoria coach station branch, the worker was left to combat severe cold, leading to breathing problems and a numbing loss of feeling in her lower extremities.
Clad only in a T-shirt and jeans, she found herself in an increasingly difficult situation. Despite attempting to generate warmth by moving around, her health spiralled. Her breathing grew laboured, and the feeling in her legs and feet dwindled. Desperate, she attempted to use a box of chocolate croissants as insulation against the freezer's icy gusts but found her hands too frozen to manipulate the cardboard.
The investigation revealed a troubling oversight: there had been no adequate risk assessment for staff working in extreme, temperature-controlled conditions. This wasn't a one-off event, as Pret's records indicated multiple instances in the preceding 19 months where issues arose due to faulty or frozen release buttons. A similar incident occurred in January 2020 at the same location, where a malfunctioning internal release mechanism led to another employee's entrapment.
This series of failures led Pret A Manger to admit their guilt at Westminster Magistrates Court regarding a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, following a thorough probe by Westminster Council.
Councillor Aicha Less, reflecting on the incident's gravity, stressed the implications of neglecting fundamental safety protocols. She emphasised that such oversights could lead to dire outcomes. In light of the court's decision, she expressed hope that the substantial fine would serve as a deterrent, ensuring adherence to safety measures in the future.
In response, a representative from Pret A Manger extended a heartfelt apology to the affected employee, acknowledging the traumatic nature of her experience. They assured that comprehensive reviews were undertaken and collaborative efforts with equipment manufacturers were in place to prevent a recurrence. The company affirmed its commitment to strengthening safety procedures where needed and confirmed its full cooperation with the council's investigative processes.