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UK industrial gas supplier fined after plant explosion injures three workers

08 August 2014

An industrial gas company must pay more than a quarter of a million pounds in fines and costs following a major explosion at its plant in Brislington, Bristol. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted BOC Ltd after the blast and fire in January 2010, in which one worker suffered serious burns and injuries and two others less severe injuries.

Rail services to Bristol Temple Meads station were suspended following a series of blasts at the BOC Gases depot in Brislington, and all roads within 200 metres of the blast site were closed and industrial units in the area evacuated. A  shopping centre and multiplex cinema were also closed for safety reasons.

Bristol Crown Court heard on August 7 how on January 7, 2010, an employee at BOC Ltd’s Dissolved Acetylene Filling Plant was filling an acetylene cylinder as part of a routine operation when the incident happened. The acetylene solution within the cylinder became unstable and the cylinder exploded, starting a fire which burned for eight days.

An investigation by HSE found that BOC had failed to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees and did not take necessary measures to prevent a major accident.

BOC Ltd, of Priestley Road, Surrey Research Park, Guildford was fined £175,000 with costs of £85,000 after admitting breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. No evidence was presented on the other charge concerning a breach of the Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations 1999.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector Evan Bale, said: “The injuries could have been avoided with some simple measures such as a thorough assessment of the risks, including an identification of human error potential and the design of the work.

“Acetylene is a colourless gas which is widely used as a fuel and a chemical building block. It is very unstable in its pure form and is normally dissolved in a solution within a cylinder prior to distribution. The company fell below the standard expected for controlling risks associated with handling this hazardous chemical.

“BOC Ltd’s plant in Brislington is a top tier major hazard site and is subject to the COMAH regulations. There is no excuse for any major hazard operator failing to take all necessary measures to prevent major accidents.”

After the 2010 incident, the firm announced it would permanently end the production of dissolved acetylene cylinders at the Brislington plant. It said one of the reasons for the move was to ensure the safety of nearby businesses.

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