A chemical firm based in Wales has been heavily fined by the Crown Court after it was found that serious health and safety breaches had resulted in an explosion and severe injuries to three employees.
The accident – which occurred when aerosol cans were forced through an industrial shredder – happened at Personnel Hygiene Service Ltd’s waste management site in Burscough on 12 October 2013.
On the day in question Personnel Hygiene Services Ltd was processing industrial waste at the plant and boxes of waste were being fed into a large industrial shredder. However, the contents of the boxes were not checked and this resulted in 150 cans containing extremely flammable substances being put into the shredder. This caused an explosion and a fireball which engulfed three employees working near to the shredder. It also caused serious damage to the large warehouse within which the shredder was situated. As a result of the explosion firefighters were called to the site to tackle the blaze and dozens of police were engaged to cordon off nearby roads. The three injured employees were also rushed to hospital by the ambulance services.
The accident was subsequently reported to the Health and Safety Executive and an investigation into the circumstances of the accident was commenced. This investigation found that the there had been the following health and safety failings:
- There was not a safe system of work at the site, including the fact the firm had allowed 150 flammable cans to be put into the shredder, that there was not a procedure for checking boxes that were delivered to the site and that the firm had failed to ensure that a chemical specialist monitored the waste to prevent such accidents
- There was an inadequate risk assessment carried out in April 2010
As a result of the above breaches the Health and Safety Executive recommended that Personnel Hygiene Services Ltd be prosecuted for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
The case came to the Liverpool Crown Court on 4 October 2013.
Personnel Hygiene Services Ltd pleaded guilty to a breach of s.2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £105,000 and ordered to pay the prosecution’s costs totalling £45,000 – a combination which came to £150,000.
Chris Hadrill, an employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “Employers have an obligation under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to take reasonably practicable steps to prevent injury to employees or third parties. The HSE clearly felt in this instance that the company failed failed to take the appropriate steps to protect the health and safety of their workers.”
HSE Principal Inspector Neil Rothwell stated after the Crown Court’s judgment: “The chemical waste industry has the potential to be extremely hazardous, and PHS could and should have done more to protect the lives of its employees and the public. The explosion and fire led to three workers being seriously injured and caused considerable disruption in the local area.”