A chemical company has been fined £120,000 after three men suffered acid burns in an accident at work.
The men, who were employed by an on-site contractor at Polimeri Europa UK Ltd chemical plant in Hythe, Southampton, were hit by a jet of sulphuric acid when old pipework ruptured.
Southampton Crown Court was told that the workers all sustained acid burns to their faces, but prompt showering on site and first aid treatment by a fellow worker helped prevent more serious industrial injury. All three men were subsequently able to return to work.
Other accident risks prioritised
The accident on December 13, 2011, involved 50-year-old pipes that had been allowed to corrode.
The pipework, used to carry 96% sulphuric acid, had split close to where the three men were working on an unrelated task in a roadway in between areas of the plant. The pressure in the pipe forced the corrosive liquid through the small perforation, turning it into a 20-metre jet spray.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that although Polimeri – part of one of Europe’s largest chemical companies, Versalis – did have a plan to inspect its pipework systems in 2008, initial target dates had been missed. Priority was given to pipework carrying other hazardous substances, which were considered a greater risk to people on and off site.
Safety failings highlighted
HSE reported that the company had failed to make sure its 9,250 metres of pipework was in a safe condition, and corrosion had been allowed to take hold of the section that carried the acid.
As well as receiving a fine, Polimeri was also ordered to pay £18,023 in costs after admitting breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
Source: SHP Online
Date Published: December 3, 2013
Author: David Brown