The following case highlights the risks of how easily things can go wrong when potentially high risk tasks are undertaken but are not properly controlled.
In this case a court has heard how a Cheshire worker could have been killed when he fell from the top of a chemical storage tank. The man had been carrying out maintenance work on the tank at a plant in Widnes when the chemical vapour inside set alight, causing an explosion. The worker was thrown from the tank and fell around two and a half metres, landing on a metal girder below.
His employer, Hutchinson Technical Services (HTS) Ltd, was prosecuted by the HSE following an investigation into the incident. Runcorn Magistrates Court was told the worker was knocked unconscious when he fell to the ground, and suffered burns on his right arm and right leg, as well as bruising to his ribs. He was kept in hospital overnight and was off work for several weeks as a result of his injuries.
The court heard the employee had been allowed to work on top of the tank without any measures in place to prevent him being injured in a fall. The HSE immediately issued HTS with a Prohibition Notice following the incident, preventing workers from carrying out work on top of tanks without suitable protective equipment.
The company, which services and repairs tanks for the chemical and other industries, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £3,588 in prosecution costs.
So why is it that a company that is apparently experienced in this type of work failed to properly assess the risks fully? The HSE prosecution concentrated on the work at height issue which we agree that if it had been planned out with the right controls it would have prevented the man falling. However the issue of the explosion appears to have been overlooked in the prosecution; which if it had not occurred probably would have meant the man would not have fallen.
This basic failure to understand the risks posed by hazardous flammable substances appears to have meant that the correct controls had not been implemented. Any tank that has contained a flammable liquid is likely to contain a residue and therefore a flammable vapour and so before the maintenance work was authorised then the tank should have been purged and checked thoroughly. The problem we see all too often is that most businesses fail to understand DSEAR risks, which is what appears to have happened here.