A leak of corrosive potassium hydroxide on a lorry was an ‘immediate risk’ to public safety – but, after noticing it, the driver continued a 12-mile journey.
Magistrates were told that some of the 170 plastic jerricans containing 45 per cent solution of the corrosive substance had not been adequately tightened, nor securely stacked on pallets, which in turn were not adequately braced on the trailer.
The jerricans toppled over whilst being transported from Whitman Laboratories Ltd, in Petersfield, Hampshire, to Belgium, by a driver working for Allport Cargo Services Ltd, on 30 March 2014.
The driver noticed his load was leaking during a stop at a motorway service station on the M2 in Kent. He phoned his transport supervisor and said the substance was corrosive and that he wanted the emergency services to be called.
After consulting her line manager, the transport supervisor directed the driver to return to the company depot in Sittingbourne, some 12 miles away. On arrival, the extent of damage was realised and the emergency services were finally called –nearly two hours after the leak was originally discovered.
Six fire engines attended the scene and hosed down the contaminated area. The driver and warehouse supervisor, who had been called in to assist, were believed to have been exposed to the material. They were stripped down and hosed on site, before being taken to hospital for observation. The service station was also decontaminated.
It was found that around 85 litres of potassium hydroxide was lost.
The investigation by HSE, identified that the jerricans had been loaded by an unsupervised contract employee, who had only started the job as a loader that week. The loader did not know how loads should be safety stowed and had not previously loaded a dangerous consignment. Whitman provided little guidance on safe stowage.
At Medway Magistrates’ Court, both companies pleaded guilty to a single offence under the Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations 2009. They were each fined £20,000 with costs of £3,438 and a £120 victim surcharge.
Potassium hydroxide is a hazardous chemical and can cause severe damage to eyes and skin, and is classified as dangerous for transport. Clearly this information was not something that the persons involved in were fully aware of and it was more by luck that no one was seriously injured.