Pret a Manger recently received a large fine from a British local government in connection to a work safety incident involving a walk-in freezer.
The roughly $1 million (£800,000) fine stems from a July 2021 incident in which a female employee got trapped in a walk-in freezer and was unable to get out for a couple of hours, the Westminster City Council said Wednesday. Pret has 28 days to pay the penalty.
The U.K.-based sandwich chain got hit with the large fine after entering a guilty plea. Prior to that, the Westminster City Council said its investigation found that “there was no suitable risk assessment for employees working in temperature-controlled environments.”
The council serves the city of Westminster, located in part of London.
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In its press release, the Westminster City Council said the Pret employee’s entrapment in the walk-in freezer, which was “typically set to run at around -18 degrees,” lasted more than two hours before another worker found her. The incident took place at a location in Victoria Coach Station.
A source at Pret said ice caused the door release inside the fridge to malfunction.
During her entrapment, the worker tried to rip apart a “cardboard box containing chocolate croissants to use as cover from the ventilation blowing out cold air,” the local government said. She experienced symptoms of hypothermia and received medical care for a possible case of the condition, according to the council.
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“We are incredibly sorry for our colleague’s experience and understand how distressing this must have been,” a Pret spokesperson told FOX Business. “We have carried out a full review and have worked with the manufacturer to develop a solution to stop this from happening again.”
The spokesperson also said Pret “revisited all our existing systems and where appropriate, enhanced these processes” after the July 2021 incident. The company has “cooperated fully with Westminster City Council’s investigation.”
The Westminster City Council said, citing Pret’s reporting system, that “defective or frozen push buttons” on freezers had prompted a “number of callouts” in a 19-month span prior to the July 2021 incident.
The fine in the case had originally been $2 million, a figure that got halved due to “credit for an early guilty plea and mitigation advanced on behalf of the company,” the Westminster City Council said.
The worker who got stuck in the freezer returned to her Pret job in a team leader position. The company provided access to counseling and other services.
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Pret has been majority owned by JAB Holding since 2018.
Thousands of people work for the sandwich chain in the U.K., according to Pret’s website. It also has employees in the U.S., Germany, India and other countries in which it operates.