A paint manufacturer owned by chemicals giant Akzonobel has been fined £800,000 after a worker suffered life-changing injuries in an explosion.
The employee of International Paint Ltd spent eight days in intensive care on life support and has been left with all-over body scarring, partial blindness to one eye, hearing damage, and damage to a knee and shoulder.
On 4 August 2020, the employee, who was 49 at the time, was making paint in a large mixing vessel at the firm's plant in Gateshead, Tyne & Wear.
As he was emptying resin pellets from a large bulk bag into the vessel an electrostatic spark was generated, igniting flammable vapour within the vessel, causing a large explosion.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigators identified that the company failed to put sufficient measures in place to control the risk. This included a failure to use a correctly working extraction system to remove the flammable vapours and effective electrical earthing of the bulk bag to prevent the build-up of electrostatic charge that led to the static spark discharging.
Last month at Newcastle upon Tyne Magistrates’ Court, International Paint Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. As well as the £800,000 fine, it was ordered to pay prosecution costs of £14,032.
'This incident should serve as an important reminder to industry that fire and explosion can have devastating consequences,' commented HSE inspector Paul Wilson after sentencing.
'It is critical that employers fully assess the risk of fire and explosion including the risk from static discharges and put the necessary control measures in place.'
In a statement, Akzonobel said it has been supporting the injured worker through its onsite occupational health provision and he has now returned to work.
'The health and safety of everyone at work is our absolute priority and we appreciate the impact this incident will have had on all our colleagues across the site,' said the spokesperson. 'Although we had extensive safety systems in place to address the risks arising from our manufacturing process, they were inadequate to prevent this incident, and for that we are extremely sorry. We immediately recognised our responsibility and we pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.
'We take this matter extremely seriously – it is the first health and safety prosecution in the history of the company, dating back to our formation in 1899. Since the incident, we have worked with the HSE and our own health and safety leadership team to conduct a full review of what, and how it happened. We updated our health and safety processes, procedures and invested significantly in new equipment.
'The company accepts the fine, which will be paid to the Treasury within three months.'