A worker was lucky to escape a hydrogen explosion at a chemical plant in Cheshire with minor injuries, health and safety inspectors have said.
The power of the explosion at Catalloy Ltd’s factory on Moss Bank Road in Widnes was so great a vessel lid was blown through the roof.
Warrington Crown Court heard how the incident on 25 November 2011 could easily have led to a fatality.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) led the prosecution against Catalloy Ltd, which produces metal catalysts used by the pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries.
Its investigation into what happened discovered that the company had made a modification to one of its reactors. A new seal had been fitted to prevent air getting in, but the risks of the increased pressure inside the equipment during the production process had not been properly taken into consideration.
The explosion occurred on the first day of production following the modification. The lid of the reactor and other equipment was blown through the corrugated panels on the roof of the premises and into a neighbouring car park.
The worker suffered cuts to his hand and back in the incident. Catalloy Ltd pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 by failing to ensure the safety of workers. It was fined a total of £80,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £80,000.
The severity of the blast meant the incident could have been much worse.
“Catalloy deals with potentially dangerous substances every day and so it’s vital nothing is left to chance when it comes to the safety of its workers,” said HSE Inspector Mhairi Duffy, speaking after the hearing.
“The company should have carefully considered the risks of sealing the reactor but instead it continued with the production process and there was a major hydrogen explosion as a result.
“Luckily, only one worker suffered minor injuries in the blast but the consequences could easily have been fatal.”
Source: Health and Safety Executive
Date Published: October 1, 2015
Author: Jonathan Brown