A chemical company has been fined £480,000 after one of its workers sustained superficial burns at its Hull factory. Flammable vapours ignited at Robert McBride’s site, a Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) lower tier establishment, and engulfed the worker’s upper torso.
A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the chemical firm’s controls had been inadequate to prevent a build-up of a flammable atmosphere in a mixing vessel, which led to the incident at its factory on Sutton Fields Industrial Estate.
Beverley Magistrates’ Court was told that the 31-year-old worker was adding powders into the 10,000 litre stainless steel mixing vessel via a manway lid on its top using a metal scoop when the ignition happened on 21 August 2017.
According to the HSE, a batch of hairspray was being mixed in the vessel and flammable vapours were created as the chemical heated up.
The chemical process involved pumping ethanol directly into the vessel via pipework from an external storage tank. Other constituents (liquid and powder) were then added via the lid and heat was applied using an integral steam coil fitted inside the vessel.
It was while the worker was adding the powders that the flammable vapours leaving the vessel via the lid ignited and briefly engulfed his upper torso, causing 13% superficial burns to his right arm and hand.
The HSE found that although Robert McBride did have an extraction system at the manway lid’s lip to remove vapours from this area, it was not an adequate control measure to prevent a flammable atmosphere from building up. The source of the ignition was most likely to have been a spark from the metal scoop, or static electricity build up on the worker’s clothing, the HSE added.
Robert McBride pleaded guilty to breaching regulation 6(1) of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR) 2002 on 7 April.
In bringing its prosecution, the HSE had argued that the company’s culpability was high. Robert McBride disputed this and argued that its culpability was medium. However, the district judge agreed that the company’s culpability was high.
In sentencing, the district judge determined that the seriousness of harm risked was level A but because it was low likelihood of harm, the breach was placed in harm category 3.
Initially, the district judge set the fine at £720,000, noting that this figure was ‘sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact, which will bring home to both management and share-holders the need to comply with health and safety legislation’.
Taking into consideration Robert McBride’s guilty plea, the district judge reduced the fine to £480,000 and ordered the company to pay £13,441 in costs.
Robert McBride said it deeply regretted ‘the injury caused to our employee and we reiterate that no blame attaches to him’.
The company said it had entered a guilty plea at the earliest opportunity and health and safety was of ‘paramount importance to our business’.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector David Stewart said: ‘Duty holders should carry out a DSEAR risk assessment in areas where there is a potential for the creation of explosive or flammable atmospheres in order to identify adequate control measures.’
According to the Hull Daily Mail, more than 100 jobs were lost after the factory closed for the final time in March 2019 due to mounting losses in the aerosol industry.
The BBC noted that the chemical firm continues to produce a range of cleaning products from its five divisions and has offices in 12 countries.