Pret A Manger has been fined £800,000 after one of its employees became stuck in one of its freezers for more than two hours.

The employee was dressed in only a t-shirt and jeans before becoming trapped in the walk-in commercial freezer which typically has its temperature set at -18C, for two and a half hours.

The incident took place while she was working at the chain’s Victoria Coach Station shop on July 29 2021, Westminster City Council said.

She had tried to keep warm by moving around but soon began to feel unwell and found her breathing was becoming restricted.

She also began to lose sensation in her thighs and feet.

Trying to warm up, the employee attempted to tear up a cardboard box full of chocolate croissants to use as cover from the ventilator blowing out cold air but found that her hands were too cold to break it apart.

She was eventually rescued by a colleague but was found “in a state of distress” and treated for suspected hypothermia.

An investigation found there was no suitable risk assessment for employees working in temperature-controlled environments.

Pret A Manger’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.

News and Star: The Pret A Manger employee was found in a 'state of distress'The Pret A Manger employee was found in a 'state of distress' (Image: Yui Mok/PA)

Pret A Manger is ‘incredibly sorry’ for colleague’s experience

The fresh coffee and sandwich chain pleaded guilty to an offence contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 at Westminster Magistrates Court on Tuesday (August 29) following an investigation by Westminster Council’s health and safety team.

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.”

Councillor Aicha Less, deputy leader and cabinet member for communities, public protection and licensing added: “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.”