Pharmaceutical company hit with £100,000 fine after worker sprayed with toxic chemical

by Redmans on September 21, 2013

  • SumoMe

A pharmaceuticals company has been heavily fined after serious health and safety breaches meant that a worker was seriously injured by toxic chemicals.

The employee, who was employed by Aesica Pharmaceuticals, was working on a storage tank when the accident occurred in February 2012. The tank had previously, in 2007, been taken out of service and prepared for an insurance inspection. This involved removing a number of cables and pipes from the storage tank. The tank failed its inspection but the replacement of the tank was postponed for five years until 2012. However, the cables and pipework were not replaced competently and when the worker removed another cable in the tank the other end was still connected to pipework for the filling of an adjacent tank with bromine. The bellows of the tank failed and this resulted in the worker being sprayed with seven litres of bromine, a commercially-useful but highly-toxic chemical element. The worker sustained serious injuries to his skin, damage to one of his eyes and was in a life-threatening position in hospital for 48 hours. He has not returned to work since the accident.

After the accident a Health and Safety Executive investigation was launched into the accident. The HSE found that bolts on the failed bellows had badly corroded, increasing the likelihood that they would rupture if used. Further, the pipework which conducted the bromine was not properly supported. This investigation therefore recommended that a prosecution be undertaken against the company for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

The case came to the Newcastle Crown Court on 20 September 2013. The company pleaded guilty to breaching s.2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was, as a result, fined £100,000 and ordered to pay the prosecution’s costs of £7,803.

HSE Inspector Graham Watson said after the hearing: “All employers and particularly those handling dangerous chemicals must not assume a lack of previous incidents means risks are adequately controlled. Measures must be in place to ensure, through robust audit and review that this is due to effective management and not just good fortune.”

Aesica Pharmaceuticals Ltd’s criminal defence solicitors appear not to have commented on the case after the hearing.

Marc Hadrill, a personal injury solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “Employers have an obligation to comply with health and safety legislation in the United Kingdom and a failure to do so will in all likelihood result in a Health and Safety Executive investigation and potential prosecution and/or civil action for personal injury.”

It is not currently known whether the worker will claim personal injury against his previous employer

Redmans Solicitors are employment solicitors in Kingston

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