A chemical firm has been fined £120,000 after an employee sustained severe burns when he was engulfed by a fireball at a factory in Wirral. The company was prosecuted by the HSE following an investigation into the incident, which left the employee with burns to his face, right arm and upper body.
The man was kept in an induced coma for seven weeks following a chemical explosion at SAFC Hitech Ltd’s plant in Bromborough on 28 February 2012. The court heard that the company had been manufacturing a chemical called trimethylindium, or TMI, which is used during the production of LEDs and in the semi-conductor industry. Waste from the purification process had been left on a bench to deactivate in an unsealed glass bottle, despite being explosive if it is exposed to air or water.
Shortly after starting his shift, the worker entered the waste deactivation area and the waste in the glass bottle exploded, sending shards of glass across the yard. He does not remember the incident but one of his colleagues reported seeing him running around in a ball of flames.
The chemical they were handling was spontaneously combustible on contact with water or air, but SAFC did not have a suitable risk assessment in place that complied with the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations for managing the extreme risks.
The employee was taken to a specialist burns unit and induced into a coma. He was kept in hospital for almost three months, and still has extensive scars and difficulty moving.
It’s a fact that a common factor in the many DSEAR assessments we undertake for businesses across the UK, is that the workforce rarely understands the risks from the substances they are working with; this includes the management team. If they did then surely more care would be taken; as this case demonstrates leaving hazardous substances around the workplace has disastrous potential.
If the company had a DSEAR assessment carried out by a competent person then such simple failures would have been quickly identified and awareness would have been raised. The problem is the lack of risk appreciation, therefore businesses fail to recognise the need to complete a DSEAR assessment. We know that the majority of assessments we complete are at the request or on the advice of a third party; often the insurers or the HSE.
For SAFC Hitech Ltd the lack of understanding led them to plead guilty to breaches of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Their main failings were in not carrying out a suitable risk assessment for dealing with the waste produced by the TMI purification process, failings in supervision and monitoring, and failing to ensure the safety of employees.
The company was fined a total of £120,000 and ordered to pay £13,328 towards the cost of the prosecution.
The HSE has warned the chemical industry that it has the potential to be extremely dangerous, which is why it’s vital the highest standards of health and safety are followed. If you use hazardous substances I would encourage you to look at whether you have the correct assessments undertaken and most importantly, that your employees fully understand the risks of what they are working with.