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Abacus Chemical Ltd sentenced after worker suffers burns

Author : J GALE

08 February 2011

A chemical company has been sentenced after a worker suffered toxic burns to his arms and chest at an Ellesmere Port factory.

The employee at Abacus Chemical Ltd was mixing two chemicals together on 7 May 2009 when they exploded, causing him to be drenched in a hot, toxic chemical solution.

The company was prosecuted in a joint case brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Environment Agency following the incident at its plant on Oil Sites Road in Ellesmere Port.

Chester Magistrates' Court, sitting in Knutsford, heard that the company had mixed 22 kilograms of sodium cyanide pellets with hydrogen peroxide to make them less toxic. By taking this action, Abacus avoided having to pay a licensed hazardous waste company to dispose of the pellets at a cost of less than £300.

Abacus Chemical Ltd, of Greenfield Business Centre, Greenfield, North Wales, pleaded guilty to three health, safety and environmental offences on 3 February 2011. The company, which no longer has an operating site, was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay £14,000 in prosecution costs.

The court was told that the company did not have a permit to mix the chemicals, failed to carry out an assessment of the risks, and did not provide protective clothing or adequate equipment.

The 58-year-old worker from Barrow-in-Furness required skin grafts to his arms and chest, and has suffered permanent scarring. He has not returned to work since the incident.

The HSE investigation found that the chemicals reacted in an exothermic explosion, most likely caused by nearly five times the amount of hydrogen peroxide than was needed being mixed with the sodium cyanide pellets.

Dr Jo-Anne Michael, the investigating inspector at HSE, said:

"A man has suffered permanent scarring and others have been put at risk of breathing in toxic fumes, because Abacus failed to take the appropriate measures for handling chemicals.

"The company should have conducted a risk assessment in advance, used protective clothing and suitable equipment, and monitored the reaction process to prevent an explosion.

"The chemical industry has the potential to be extremely hazardous and so it's therefore vital that the proper health and safety measures are in place."

The force of the chemical explosion produced a thick white cloud but firefighters were not warned that they might be exposed to toxic fumes when they attended the site.

Tracey Rimmer, Team Leader for the Environment Agency, said:

"This prosecution was brought about as Abacus Chemicals Ltd failed to have an Environmental Permit in place for the actions that they were undertaking.

"The Environment Agency works to protect and improve the environment. Sites that operate without a valid permit in place have the potential to cause serious harm to the environment."

Abacus Chemical Ltd's director, Michael St. Amour, was also cautioned for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2007, and the Hazardous Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2005.

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