Explosive atmosphere planning oversight blasts chemical firm for £1.2m
Tuesday 18th July 2017
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Two workers suffered minor injuries from the blast when Industrial Chemicals was operating the plant's new hydrochloric acid (HCI) burner on 26 September 2013.
Chelmsford Crown Court heard on 7 July that the burner had been used only a few occasions previously. The site had been under construction and was undergoing commissioning.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident as the competent authority for the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations 1999 and found that Industrial Chemicals had routed the vent gas, which contained mostly hydrogen, through to the plant's emergency scrubber.
As the gas was routed, it made contact with oxygen or chlorine, which ignited the gas and triggered an explosion, destroying a tank and displacing a scrubber column upwards and at an angle. One worker suffered a grazed knee from a breeze block, which dislodged from the control room wall. A second worker suffered a minor caustic burn caused by a drip from the plant moments after the explosion.
The HSE investigation found that Industrial Chemicals, which has 300 employees and operates around 15 plants and supplies chemicals products to the detergent, paper and water treatment industries, had not identified the potential for an explosive atmosphere in the design, construction or commissioning of the plant. It served the company with a COMAH prohibition notice following the incident.
Industrial Chemicals, of Stoneness Road, West Thurrock, pleaded guilty to breaching reg 4 of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999. It was fined £1.2m and ordered to pay costs of £35,854.
The oil giant reached a settlement agreement with the state’s occupational safety and health regulator Cal/OSHA on Monday (24 July) to ensure the safe operation of process safety equipment at the site. As part of the agreement, the company will replace all carbon steel piping used to transport corrosive liquids with chrome-alloy piping, which has superior corrosion resistance properties. It also must implement procedures to monitor the equipment that alerts operators to necessary replacements.
Industrial Chemicals’ risk assessment ignored the explosive risk posed by hydrogen in vent gas, which was routed through the plant’s emergency scrubber at its control of major accident hazards (COMAH) regulated site in West Thurrock in Essex. The gas ignited and triggered an explosion, destroying a tank and displacing a scrubber column. Two workers suffered minor injuries in the blast as the manufacturer was carrying out the final stage in a series of tests to produce hydrochloric acid in the plant’s new burner on 26 September 2013.
The joint study, conducted by the University of Stirling in Scotland and the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, says there is a “clear link” between exposure to polluted air and several health conditions.Unfiltered air is supplied (or bled) to an aeroplane cabin’s ventilation system from the engine compressors and can become contaminated as engine oil leaks over the engine seals and enters the compressor air.
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Sukhdev Kundi was working on a stepladder on the first floor of the property when the incident happened on 30 May 2012. As he was pulling cables, he fell off the ladder and through an opening, landing 4 m below.Kundi broke his spine in three places and was paralysed from the chest down. He spent three months in a coma and a total of 12 months in hospital. He died in May 2015, with the cause of death being respiratory failure due to a collapsed lung and pneumonia alongside his spinal injuries and paraplegia.
Taunton Magistrates’ Court heard this week that 26-year-old Ryan Sartin was repairing a roof at Home Farm, Shepton Beauchamp in Somerset on 23 June 2016 when the incident happened.T Broom Construction of Pine Park Road, Honiton, Devon pleaded guilty to breaching reg 4 (1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. It was also ordered to pay costs of £1,016.