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UK chemical firm sentenced over Burscough explosion

03 November 2013

A chemical firm has been ordered to pay £150,000 in fines and 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 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following the blast at Burscough Industrial Estate in Burscough on 12 October 2010, 

The aftermath of the blaze - Photo: HSE
The aftermath of the blaze - Photo: HSE

Liverpool Crown Court heard that three employees working near the shredder were caught in a fireball when aerosol cans were put into an industrial shredder. 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, of Western Industrial Estate, Lon-Y-Llyn, Caerphilly, Wales, 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 on 3 October 2013.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Principal Inspector Neil Rothwell said:

"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.

"The issue of waste materials being wrongly labelled is well known in the industry, so PHS shouldn't just have assumed it could add cardboard boxes to the industrial shredder without first checking what was in them.

"It could easily have made sure boxes were opened before they were put in the shredder. If it had, then the explosion and fire could have been avoided."

Details on how companies can reduce the risk of fires and explosions are available at www.hse.gov.uk/fireandexplosion.


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