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Dust explosion burns worker

15 November 2010

A subsidiary of a global chemical company has been fined £20,000 after a welder suffered serious burns in a dust explosion at one of its plants in Cumbria. David Lightfoot was carrying out welding work on a large container at Indorama Polymers' (Workington) site in Siddick. The container housed 380 tonnes of the explosive powder, Terephthalic acid.

The company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following an investigation into the cause of the explosion. Workington Magistrates' Court heard that, on 29 October 2008,  Lightfoot was welding a metal component around a two and a half inch diameter hole that had been sealed with a temporary bung, when he was suddenly engulfed by a fireball.

Lightfoot had been welding for around 20 seconds before finding himself surrounded by flames that forced him down to his hands and knees. He and another worker jumped ten feet to the ground to escape the flames but Lightfoot was left with severe burns to his head, face, arms and hands.

The HSE investigation concluded the bung had fallen out, allowing around 15 grams of the explosive powder to escape, which was then ignited by the welding flame, creating the fireball.

Lightfoot spent three days in intensive care with breathing difficulties, caused by swelling and blistering to his tongue and throat. He is still being treated for the scarring to his face more than two years after the incident.

Michael Griffiths, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: "This was an entirely preventable incident which caused serious burns to a man's hands and face, and has left him with significant scarring.

"Indorama Polymers should have planned the work properly in advance. Either the welding should have been carried out before the hole was drilled into the vessel, or the explosive powder in that part of the vessel should have been removed before the welding started.

"It is extremely important that chemical companies treat health and safety as their top priority, to avoid terrible injuries like this occurring again in the future."

Indorama Polymers Workington Ltd pleaded guilty to a breach of Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 by putting people not in their employment at risk. The company was ordered to pay costs of £14,941 in addition to the fine on 11 November.

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