Distillery fined after fire leaves worker with serious burns

A distillery has been fined after an employee was engulfed in flames in a fire that ripped through its warehouse.

The blaze broke out on 26th November, 2012, at its distillery in Oldbury, West Midlands. Wolverhampton Crown Court heard how a 21-year-old Alcohols Limited worker was transferring the highly flammable solvent ethyl acetate from a bulk storage tank to an intermediate bulk container.

A subsequent investigation by the Health and Safety Executive surmised it was likely that the fire was sparked by an electrostatic discharge generated during the transfer process.

Alcohols Limited pleaded guilty to breaching s 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. It was fined £270,000 and ordered to pay costs of £25,009.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Kieron Jones said: “Companies that fail to ensure the integrity of their safety critical equipment place their employees, members of the public, emergency services and their entire livelihood at risk of serious harm.”

The worker incurred 20% burns to his head, neck and hands. The ensuing fire destroyed the warehouse, damaging nearby houses and cars before West Mercia Fire and Rescue Services could bring it under control.

Mr Jones added: “Poor management of highly flammable liquids can have catastrophic results both for individuals and businesses.”
During its investigation, the HSE found pipework and valves on the premises were poorly maintained and not competently inspected. The company also failed to appropriately monitor the systems of work.

Alcohols Limited, a division of the family-owned WH Palmer Industries group, makes own-brand spirits including gin and vodka for retailers.

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