A company in control of a steel plant was fined £930,000 after five plant workers were exposed to toxic and flammable vapour. The judge stated that an estimated £25,000 spent on repairs, would have avoided the fine.
The company repeatedly failed to act on the recommendations of an inspection which identified the release of a chemical as an intolerable risk.
The chemical was a known carcinogen and was highly flammable. During a process it was being released through an inspection porthole leaving two workers with breathing difficulties and risking the lives of a further three if it were to ignite. A review had been carried out by an engineering contractor 3 years prior, where recommendations were made to replace the glass on the porthole. This was not acted on after the initial review or following subsequent yearly visits before the incident.
When the cooling water pump failed, the plant pressure built up and the porthole half way up this plant started “gushing brown liquid”.
Two of the exposed workers experienced breathing difficulties when they were enveloped by the white vapour cloud, which the liquid gave off and had spread across the plant. Both were sent to hospital but were discharged the next day.
The sentencing judge stated that the company’s worst failing was disregarding previous warnings regarding the process. “For a company the size of the defendant to adopt such a slap-dash attitude was, and remains, frankly, deplorable”. The judge sort an estimate to correct the failings identified in previous reviews. This was estimated as £25,000. The judge said “That was not a high sum of money for very estimable gains in terms of health and safety in a company of the size and importance of the defendant.” As well as the fine of £930,000 the company also had to pay costs of £70,000