HSE hits chemical company with £1.2 million fine following explosion

August 29, 2017

How did the system fail so badly?

Chelmsford Crown Court heard that a newly installed hydrochloric acid burner had only been used a few times, as the plant was undergoing commissioning.

The HSE discovered that, in an attempt to address a chlorine risk, vent gas (mainly hydrogen) had been directed through the emergency scrubber. As a result, the gas mixed with oxygen or chlorine and found an ignition source. In the ensuing explosion, a tank was destroyed and a scrubber column displaced.

Fortunately, nobody was seriously harmed in the incident. However, two people received minor injuries; one suffered a grazed knee from a dislodged breeze block and the other a minor caustic burn.

The HSE declared that basic checks would have prevented the explosion. This points to a shortfall in competence by the commissioning engineers of the system.

What rules were broken?

Industrial Chemicals Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4 of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999. The fine of £1.2million was in addition to the award of costs amounting to £35,854. The size of this penalty can be seen in the context of a new tough regime from the HSE that has been implemented since February 2016.

In the first year of this regime, there were more fines in excess of £1 million than there had been in the previous 20 years. In other words, if you get health and safety wrong now, the financial consequences are far more likely to hurt.

Why is it vital to have competent engineers?

It is a legal requirement to ensure that employee exposure to hazardous substances like dust and fumes is prevented or adequately controlled.

When extraction systems are not designed or used appropriately, secondary dangers such as explosions become a risk factor.

The ruling and subsequent fine highlight that it is the responsibility of the business owner to ensure that LEV equipment is operated, serviced and tested by competent engineers.

How can you be sure your engineers are competent?

A competent engineer possesses the appropriate level of skill and knowledge required to carry out their tasks effectively. The engineer should be able to demonstrate this with references, and evidence of qualifications and previous work.

The British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) qualifications are relevant here. They cover various aspects of LEV systems such as designing, operating and testing. These qualifications are:

  • P600 – Methods for Testing the Performance of Local Exhaust Ventilation Systems
  • P601 – Thorough Examination and Testing of Local Exhaust Ventilation Systems
  • P602 – Basic Design Principles of Local Exhaust Ventilation Systems
  • P603 – Control of Hazardous Substances – Personal Protective Equipment
  • P604 – Performance Evaluation and Management of Local Exhaust Ventilation Systems
  • W201 – Basic Principles in Occupational Hygiene

Once you have completed P601, 602, 603 & 604, you can apply for the Certificate of Competency in Control. This takes into account relevant working experience.

As this serious case shows, when an engineer does not possess the necessary competence, the health and safety of other employees are put at risk.

Ensuring LEV competence with Vent-Tech

Vent-Tech provides an expert engineering service that encompasses design, installation, servicing and testing. We also run approved training for all relevant BOHS courses. We are the only training provider in the UK to offer both training and engineering solutions. This means we have unrivalled experience to share.

Whilst it’s a relief that no one was seriously harmed in this case, the £1.2million fine shows just how important it is for employers to ensure competence in their workforce and when using sub-contractors. With the introduction of the ILEVE competency card, the end users can be confident that if the LEV engineer has the card, they can demonstrate their competence and experience.

We are only a phone call away for our customers. And for those who need more, we offer a mentoring service.

Contact Vent-Tech today on 01179 712 163 to discuss how we can help you maintain a safe workspace.