A Littleborough factory has been sentenced for safety failings, following a major fire which left an employee with severe burns. Multiroof Building Products Ltd was prosecuted by HSE following the blaze on 28 May 2012, which destroyed the entire factory and several neighbouring businesses.
A 25-year-old employee from Rochdale sustained burns to his neck and hands, was in hospital for several weeks and has been unable to return to work.
Trafford Magistrates Court heard the factory mixed flammable solvents with hot bitumen to produce roof treatment coatings. On the day of the incident, workers were using a hose to feed around one tonne of solvents from a plastic container, known as a composite IBC, into an adjacent storage tank containing around 20 tonnes of hot bitumen.
Without warning, there was a sudden whoosh and flames erupted from the top of the plastic container. The fire quickly spread and within minutes the whole factory was alight. A total of 21 fire engines were required to tackle the blaze.
The HSE investigation found that Multiroof had allowed flammable vapours, created by the mixing process, to be released in the work area where there were potential ignition sources. A key control required by DSEAR is to remove vapours at source; clearly this was not understood or was overlooked. It’s worth noting that where vapours are allowed to build up to their flammable range then many sources of ignition could have ignited the vapours; including electrical sources, static, elevated temperatures etc.
The business had also failed to consider issues such as the storage of containers of flammable substances; these were found to be stored close to the hot bitumen tank, increasing the risk that a fire would quickly spread.
Multiroof Building Products Ltd, which is no longer operating at the site, was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £6,000 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
The HSE commented that simple precautions could have been in place to avoid the injured man suffering injuries that will affect him for the rest of his life.
This business knew its manufacturing process involved working with highly flammable substances but failed to properly assess the risks from its activities. If a DSEAR assessment had been carried out by competent persons then they would have known that more needed to be done to control flammable vapours or remove potential sources of ignition.
The result was a fire that caused considerable disruption in the local area and destroyed several neighbouring businesses. This could easily have been prevented.
The HSE suggest this case should act as a warning to companies that work with flammable substances of the potential consequences of not taking suitable precautions and making sure safety measures are in place.