A major scotch whisky manufacturer has been fined after two workers had to flee a warehouse fire. Clearly a near disaster and serious event for the business; and all of which could have been avoided if they had taken competent advice. A DSEAR assessment would have identified the risks of having flammable liquids and unprotected electrical sources coming together. Even if the business had not recognised the need the DSEAR assessment this should have been picked out in the Fire risk assessment.
The Court was told that two workers were filling casks in a warehouse in The Edrington Group Limited’s premises. The men were on a metal walkway at the top levels of the warehouse, using flexible hoses to fill the 450-litre casks with whisky which was being pumped from steel vats.
After filling four of them, one worker felt the hose he was using relax then heard a whoosh of liquid towards the forklift truck. He turned to see a jet of whisky shooting up towards a ceiling light fitting above the truck. The whisky hit the light fitting and a flame engulfed the cage of the forklift truck.
Around the same time his colleague heard a ‘pop’ from the cage and then saw a flame spread across the roof from the light fitting both towards and away from them.
Both workers ran towards the stairs at the back of the warehouse, activating the fire alarm as they left, prompting the evacuation of the whole site within several minutes.
The court heard that thousands of litres of the burning spirit poured down the racked casks and onto the forklift truck until the supplying pump was turned off about 15 minutes later. Another worker who witnessed the fire through a door into the warehouse described the forklift truck as looking like ‘a Christmas pudding once brandy is set alight’.
It was later discovered that 70 of the 110 sprinkler heads in the warehouse had been activated.
An investigation into the incident by the HSE found that the central aisle lights in the warehouse should not have been used in a flammable atmosphere and, had they been checked, they would have been identified as an ignition source risk. HSE’s investigation also revealed that the filling equipment was not suitable for use to transfer a hazardous substance like alcohol at pressure. Both of these are issues that our DSEAR assessors would have identified and suggested suitable corrective actions.
The Edrington Group Limited was fined £40,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
The HSE Inspector commented after the case that this was a major incident that could have had disastrous consequences. The two workers had to run for their lives and were extremely lucky not to have been killed or seriously injured.
It was found that more than 17,500 litres of whisky were lost during the incident. This volume of flammable liquid could have served as fuel for a significant fire, which would have caused major disruption and damage to the environment.
The impact of such an event will have lasting implications on the business all of which could have easily been avoided if they had taken competent advice. As the HSE pointed out, had the company taken the simple steps of checking the light fittings were suitable for use in a flammable atmosphere and that the equipment used to transfer the alcohol was fit for purpose, then this incident could have been prevented. It would be impossible to guess the costs this has created to the business but for whisky drinkers everywhere it must seem like a criminal waste.