The uncontrolled release of dangerous gases in Oldbury could have easily caused serious injury, a health and safety inspector has said.
A fault in the systems of multi-national chemical producer, Solvay Solutions UK Limited, meant phosphorus and phosphine were released into the atmosphere from its plant on Trinity Street on January 2, 2009.
The incident put workers and members of the public at risk, but the swift action of local authorities meant no one was injured.
‘Could have been worse’
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Kay Brookes said the outcomes could have been far worse.
Upon contact with the air, the phosphorus and phosphine spontaneously ignited to produce phosphorous pentoxide. This reacted with moisture to produce a mist of phosphoric acid which drifted to a densely populated area.
Around 4,500 residents nearby were asked to stay indoors for between two to three hours, while motorists on the M5 also experienced disruption as police set up road closures within the vicinity of the site.
A welded steel bar failed at the weld and broke in two. One piece fell back and the other piece pulled clear, leaving an opening through which the dangerous substance escaped, Warley Magistrates’ Court heard.
Solvay Solutions UK Limited pleaded guilty to an offence under Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined a total of £333,000 and ordered to pay costs of £110,000.
Ms Brookes claimed the case should serve as a warning to other companies dealing with harmful substances that they need to get their processes absolutely right, in order to ensure the safety of the public.
Source: Health and Safety Executive
Date Published: February 12, 2016
Author: Jonathan Brown