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HSE issues risk assessment warning following successful prosecution

16 December 2008

A recent prosecution brought against a manufacturing company in the Midlands, after carbon dioxide was released into a basement sub station where it had little likelihood of escape, led to a total of £28,000 in fines. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is now warning companies to conduct suitable risk assessments and provide safe systems of work.
The company was also ordered to pay costs of £5,278.

Carbon dioxide warning
Carbon dioxide warning

Denso Manufacturing Midlands of Minworth, Sutton Coldfield pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 by Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on Friday 12th December 2008.

The breach came under sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Act and Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Denso Manufacturing Midlands had been decommissioning the fire suppression system in the basement substation of its old works in Shaftmoor Lane, Hall Green, Birmingham. As part of preparing the site for clearance, in October, 2007, two employees of the company released carbon dioxide from 11 large cylinders into the small basement room, unaware that it was heavier than air and would not be able to escape.

Completely unaware that the gas had been released, a contract electrician re-entered the substation but decided to leave immediately because he noticed an unpleasant taste to the air. Once outside, he felt weak, was taken to hospital and treated for gas inhalation.

The court also heard that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air was well above the level liable to cause lack of consciousness. Had the contract electrician lapsed into unconsciousness it is unlikely that he would have been found for some considerable time and this would have made the chances of him being revived increasingly unlikely.

HSE’s investigation revealed that no risk assessment had been carried out by the company to identify the risks arising from the move to Minworth and decommissioning of the Shaftmoor Lane factory.

HSE inspector Ed Fryer said: “Quite clearly the lack of any risk assessment whatsoever enabled a very dangerous situation to develop. Management arrangements for the health and safety of employees and non-employees were grossly inadequate. It would be too frightening to speculate what the consequences might have been, not only for the two employees or the contract electrician but for anybody who unwittingly entered that basement after the gas had been released.”

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