Potentially lethal gas released from faulty storage tank… A pharmaceuticals company in the North East region of England has been fined £100,000 after an employee was left fighting for his life when he was sprayed with a toxic gas at the company premises in Northumberland.
The accident victim had to spend 48 hours in intensive care after being sprayed with a large quantity of bromine gas as he removed cables from a valve that was part of the infrastructure of pipes that carried the dangerous gas. The man inhaled the toxic substance and sustained severe burns to his skin and damage to one eye.
Newcastle Crown Court heard that back in 2007 a bromine tank was being prepared to be taken out of service, however it failed its insurance inspection and the replacement for the storage tank was postponed until 2012. During this period pipework was disconnected at one end of the tank but the other end remained connected to an adjacent tank which meant the tank that had failed its inspection became contaminated.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into the incident discovered that bolts on the storage tank had corroded over time increasing the possibility that they would not hold under significant pressure. A section of pipework connected to the tank was also found to be insufficiently supported. The accident victim has been removing cables at the time of the accident when the bellows attached to the unit failed, releasing several litres of bromine into the area.Bromine can be fatal if inhaled and inflicts skin burns on people in the vicinity of the gas.
The pharmaceuticals company was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay an additional £7,803 in prosecution costs after admitting their guilt in breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
HSE Inspector Graham Watson spoke after the hearing:
“This was a serious incident with potentially fatal consequences which was readily preventable.
“All employers and particularly those handling dangerous chemicals must not assume a lack of previous incidents means risks are adequately controlled. Measures must be in place to ensure, through robust audit and review that this is due to effective management and not just good fortune.
“Maintaining the mechanical integrity of process plant and pipework is essential to preventing the loss of hazardous chemicals. Any changes to plant must be carefully assessed to ensure it does not increase the risk of failure. Measures must be in place through an on-going programme of maintenance and inspection to ensure the continued integrity of the plant according to risk.”
Author: Julian Roberts
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