Pret A Manger fined £800,000 after staff member locked in walk-in freezer for two and a half hours

30 August 2023, 21:09 | Updated: 30 August 2023, 21:11

Pret has been fined £800,000 for the incident
Pret has been fined £800,000 for the incident. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren and Chay Quinn

Pret A Manger has been fined £800,000 after one of its workers got stuck in one of its freezers, suffering suspected hypothermia.

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The staff member was trapped in the walk-in commercial freezer at the Victoria Coach Station shop for two and a half hours in 2021.

The freezer is usually set to -18C.

The woman was found in "a state of distress" by a colleague and rescued. She was treated for suspected hypothermia after her ordeal, which took place on July 29 that year.

The employee, who was dressed only in jeans and a t-shirt, tried to stay warm by moving around, but she soon began to feel ill.

Read more: Mum-of-five died after fatal reaction to vegan Pret wrap that contained milk, coroner rules

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Pret has been fined
Pret has been fined. Picture: Alamy

She began to struggle with breathing and lost feeling in her thighs and feet.

The woman tore up a cardboard box of chocolate croissants to shelter from a ventilator blowing out cold air, but 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."