Firm fined over chemical explosion injuries

A chemical firm has been fined £150,000 after three employees suffered serious burns in an explosion at Burscough industrial estate in October 2010.

Personnel Hygiene Services (PHS) Ltd pleaded guilty at Liverpool Crown Court to breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Speaking after the ruling, Principal HSE Inspector Neil Rothwell said: “The chemical waste industry has the potential to be extremely hazardous, and PHS could and should have done more to protect the lives of its employees and the public.

“The explosion and fire led to three workers being seriously injured and caused considerable disruption in the local area.”

The court heard how a joint investigation by HSE and the Environment Agency traced the cause of the explosion to the placement of 150 aerosol cans into a shredder.

The investigation concluded that PHS had no procedure to check and log the contents of boxes of waste materials delivered to the site.

A risk assessment conducted in April 2010 was also deemed to be wholly inadequate after PHS wrongly identified the risk of aerosols being added to the shredder as ‘very unlikely’.

Mr Rothwell said the issue of waste materials being wrongly labelled was “well known” in the industry.

As such, he added: “PHS shouldn’t just have assumed it could add cardboard boxes to the industrial shredder without first checking what was in them.

“It could easily have made sure boxes were opened before they were put in the shredder. If it had, then the explosion and fire could have been avoided.”

A spokeswoman for PHS said: “We have cooperated fully with the HSE and Environment Agency at all times during the course of their investigations and have taken steps to prevent any such incident happening in the future, including reviewing and updating our processes and investing in state-of-the-art equipment in all of our relevant sites.”

PHS was fined £105,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £45,000.

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