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UK chemical company fined after worker suffers burns

12 April 2022

UK chemical company Robert McBride Ltd. has been sentenced for safety breaches after a 31-year-old worker suffered 13 per cent superficial burns to his right arm and hand following the ignition of flammable vapours. The incident occurred in August 2017 at a site in Hull. McBride is one of Europe’s largest manufacturers of retailer-owned household goods.

The UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE) announced on April 7 that McBride pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 6(1) of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR) 2002. The company was fined £480,000 and ordered to pay costs of £13,441.80.

During the hearing, Beverley Magistrates’ Court heard that on the day of the incident, a batch of hairspray was being mixed in a 10,000 litre stainless steel mixing vessel. Flammable vapours were created within the mixing vessel as a result of heating.
Ethanol was pumped directly into the vessel via pipework from an external storage tank. Other constituents (liquid and powder) were added to the vessel via a manway lid on the top of the vessel. The mixing process then required the addition of heat via an integral steam coil within the vessel.
As the worker was adding powders into the vessel via the lid using a metal scoop, flammable vapours leaving the vessel via the lid ignited, briefly engulfing his upper torso.
An investigation by the HSE found there was an extraction system at the lip of the manway lid to remove vapours from this area, but it was not adequate to prevent a build-up of a flammable atmosphere. The ignition source is likely to have been a spark from the metal scoop, or static electricity build up on the workers clothing.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector David Stewart said: “Dutyholders should carry out a DSEAR risk assessment in areas where there is a potential for the creation of explosive or flammable atmospheres in order to identify adequate control measures.”

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