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CHEMICALS MIX-UP GENERATED FATAL TOXIC GAS

High fines imposed on major food manufacturer and chemicals distributor

Walkers Snack Foods Ltd and Omnichem Ltd have been fined a total of £350,000 after a workman died following inadvertent generation of a cloud of toxic chlorine dioxide fumes.

A lorry containing tanks of sodium chlorite and hydrochloric acid were delivered to Walkers’ site in Beaumont Leys, in Leicester on 19 July 2006. The chemicals are used in a recently commissioned starch reclamation unit.

John Marriott, 59, of Scalford, near Melton Mowbray, was arranging for the transfer of the two chemicals. However, the hoses were inadvertently mixed-up causing production of a green fumes of chlorine dioxide.

When he realised the Mr Marriott stopped the transfer and started to hose the area down. However, he was already starting to be affected by the toxic gas.

He was taken to hospital with one other worker who recovered after 30 hours. The condition of Mr Marriott gradually deteriorated and he died from the effects of the gas on 17 August 2006.

Catalogue of serious failings

Walkers Snack Foods Ltd, of Reading, Berkshire, pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £200,000. It was also ordered to pay costs of £38,971. Omnichem Ltd, of Melton Mowbray, admitted the same charges and was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay £29,229 costs.

HSE inspector Sue Thompson said:

“This incident was entirely preventable. Basic risk assessments and clear procedures could have avoided Mr Marriott’s tragic death but as it was there were a catalogue of serious failings.

“Employees who had tried to help Mr Marriott did not know the type of operation that was being carried out, nor the nature of the gas being released. They had no appropriate training and they had no idea what to do.

“It took about an hour after the appearance of the gas cloud for Walkers to realise the gravity of matters, and to get employees out of the area. Walkers had no planned evacuation procedure for a chemical emergency at this location, which was a major failing.

“There were insufficient written procedures for deliveries of chemicals and for the receipt of chemicals, and the tanks were also insufficiently labelled.”

Comment

Chemical incidents are relatively rare on construction projects. However, a recent incident in Aberdeen highlights that construction projects are not immune from such potentially fatal mix-ups.

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