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UK chemical firm fined £120,000 after fireball engulfs employee

07 May 2013

A chemical firm has been fined £120,000 after an employee sustained severe burns when he was engulfed by a fireball at a factory in the Wirral. The 45-year-old from Kirkby was kept in an induced coma for seven weeks following a chemical explosion at SAFC Hitech Ltd’s plant in Bromborough on 28 February last year.

The company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following an investigation into the incident, which left the employee with burns to his face, right arm and upper body.

Liverpool Crown Court heard on April 29 that the company had been manufacturing a chemical called trimethylindium, or TMI, which is used during the production of LEDs and in the semi-conductor industry.

Waste from the purification process had been left on a bench to deactivate in an unsealed glass bottle, despite being explosive if it is exposed to air or water.

Shortly after starting his shift, the worker entered the waste deactivation area and the waste in the glass bottle exploded, sending shards of glass across the yard. He does not remember the incident but one of his colleagues reported seeing him running around in a ball of flames.

The employee was taken to a specialist burns unit and induced into a coma. He was kept in hospital for almost three months, and still has extensive scars and difficulty moving.

SAFC Hitech Ltd pleaded guilty to single breaches of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 and the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

The charges relate to failing to carry out a suitable risk assessment for dealing with the waste produced by the TMI purification process, failings in supervision and monitoring, and failing to ensure the safety of employees.

The company, of Power Road in Bromborough, was fined a total of £120,000 and ordered to pay £13,328 towards the cost of the prosecution.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Semra Zack-Williams said:

"One of SAFC’s employees has suffered burns that will affect him for the rest of his life, and has so far been unable to return to work due to the extent of his injuries.

"The procedure the company had for dealing with waste produced from the TMI purification process was inadequate, and staff were not sufficiently supervised or monitored.

"The chemical they were handling was spontaneously combustible on contact with water or air, but SAFC did not have a suitable risk assessment in place that complied with the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations for managing the extreme risks.

"The chemical industry has the potential to be extremely dangerous, which is why it’s vital the highest standards of health and safety are followed. SAFC fell well below those standards in this case".

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