21st June 2013
West Yorkshire firm in court over highly-flammable spillage
A solvent recycling firm in West Yorkshire has been prosecuted for safety failings that led to a major spillage of nearly 4,000 litres of highly flammable liquid from a road tanker.
Employees at the solvent recycling site in Knottingley were exposed to serious risk that the liquid might ignite.
Three workers waded into the pool of harmful liquid when it was discovered. One used his finger to block a drain hole to prevent it from flowing into the site drain and from there to the river. Two others went to find sand for the drain hole and brushes to sweep the liquid elsewhere.
Wakefield Magistrates heard (19 June 2013) that no steps were taken to immediately halt traffic movements on the site, producing a risk of ignition.
The incident, on 16 December 2011, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which brought a prosecution for safety failings against Tradebe Solvent Recycling Ltd.
The court was told that after a shift change at the Weeland Road site, one operative started to fill a tanker with paint thinners unaware it had been filled with industrial denatured alcohol, or methylated spirits, by the previous shift. The vehicle was left for about 15 minutes with the pump running while the worker went to get some paperwork.
When he returned, some four tonnes – around 3,800 litres – of highly flammable liquid had spilled and pooled. The three employees eventually managed to block the site drain and the remaining spill was recovered to a fixed storage tank using a vacuum hose. Traffic movement on site was not halted until the firm’s health and safety manager arrived some time later.
HSE found that the company did not have a safe system in place for filling the tankers, despite the fact that solvent recycling was the primary element of the business. In addition there were failings in procedures at important times such as shift changeover and some inadequate training.
Tradebe Solvent Recycling Ltd, part of the Tradebe Waste Management group, a multi-national business, admitted breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 by exposing employees to danger while loading highly flammable liquids and recovering a spillage. The company, of Sandycroft, Deeside, Flintshire, Wales, was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £2,070 in costs.
After the case, the HSE Inspector who investigated, said:
“This was a serious incident involving nearly 4,000 litres of flammable liquid, which could have been ignited by more than one source. The nature of the business carried out on the site, where flammable liquids are processed for re-use, meant that there was a risk that a major fire could occur.
“Tradebe Solvent Recycling failed to ensure there were robust safety procedures for filling tankers and a safe system in place for shift changeover – a time that is widely recognised as a potential weakness within industry. There were also failings in the training and instruction given to workers.
“At the company’s Heysham site in Lancashire, a tanker was overfilled in similar circumstances in 2008 and controls were implemented afterwards by the company using ‘full’ and ‘empty’ indicator boards. The same measures had not been introduced at Knottingley and, had they been so, this incident could have been avoided.
“Companies whose businesses rely on the handling of hazardous substances with the potential to cause serious injuries, and even death, cannot afford to be complacent and should have adequate systems to control the risks that they generate.”
For information and advice on hazardous substances, visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/chemicals/index.htm