A chemical firm has been ordered to pay £150,000 in fines plus costs over a major explosion at a waste management site in Lancashire that caused three workers to sustain serious burns.
Personnel Hygiene Services (PHS) Ltd was prosecuted by the HSE following the blast at Burscough Industrial Estate, which occurred when aerosol cans were put into an industrial shredder.
Liverpool Crown Court heard that three employees working near the shredder were caught in a fireball, and surrounding buildings had to be evacuated while firefighters dealt with the resulting blaze.
Nearly 60 police officers were deployed to oversee road closures and control a cordon around the site, and a thick cloud of smoke developed above the fire and was seen drifting from Burscough towards Southport. There was also extensive damage to the large warehouse that housed the shredder.
A joint investigation by HSE and the Environment Agency found the company had allowed around 150 cans containing extremely flammable substances to be put into a large shredder at the site on Tollgate Crescent.
The investigation found that PHS did not have a procedure for checking the contents of boxes of waste materials delivered to the site. The company also failed to ensure that a chemical specialist monitored the waste being put into the shredder to check for flammable substances.
Finally, a risk assessment carried out in April 2010 was found to be wholly inadequate after the company wrongly identified the risk of aerosols being added to the shredder as being ‘very unlikely’, and the consequences of this happening as ‘moderate’ meaning no action was taken as a result.
PHS Ltd, was fined £105,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £45,000 after pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
Commenting after the case the HSE Principal Inspector identified that PHS could and should have done more to protect the lives of its employees and the public.
A key issue is that waste materials’ being wrongly labelled is well known in the industry, so PHS should have done more to check the contents. It makes you wonder who completed the risk assessment prior to the incident as the judgement was obviously poor given the industry knowledge that was available.
Only recently we carried out a DSEAR assessment at another waste site to look at this issue of ensuring waste separation and having secondary protection in place in case an aerosol gets through the checking systems. Simple precautions such as having a blast screen in place could have prevented injury to the three workers. The important part is to have a thorough risk assessment undertaken.