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£3m fine after toxic vapour cloud kills worker

A chemical company has been fined over £3 million after a worker was killed when overcome by a toxic vapour cloud.

The incident occurred in March 2010 at Cristal Pigment UK Limited in Grimsby, when there was a build-up of Titanium Tetrachloride – a highly volatile compound – within a vessel.

The chemical came into contact with water, creating a violent reaction and rupturing the vessel. When the liquid came into contact with the air, it created a large toxic vapour cloud.

Titanium Tetrachloride reacts extremely vigorously with water to produce a dense white fume with toxic and corrosive characteristics. As well as the corrosive effects of hydrochloric acid to any skin tissue, the breathing in of titanium oxychloride particulates creates an even greater hazard to the respiratory system.

This is particularly true at or soon after the instant of release when the size of the particulates is at its smallest and therefore capable of penetrating deep into the respiratory tract. If the fumes are breathed in, the damage to the lungs is likely to be irreversible and can cause death.

Grimsby Crown Court heard that Paul Doyley, 48, was showered with the corrosive liquid and blanketed by the rapidly expanding toxic vapour cloud. He died on the 18 March 2010 from his injuries.

His colleauge, Ron Ingoldby was also covered by the dense cloud. He survived his injuries, but suffers from irreversible lung damage.

The large poisonous vapour cloud rapidly expanded to several metres in height and poured out from the site as a thick, dense white cloud. The wind blew the cloud out across the river Humber and closed down the shipping lanes for several hours, until the incident was eventually brought under control by the Humberside Fire and Rescue Service.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found that the company had deviated from the normal operating procedures, which led to the dangerous build-up of the chemical.

Parts of the plant and its procedures were poorly designed and the company had not established robust safety management procedures and systems of work to assess and control risk and to ensure that these were actually followed.

A chemical company was sentenced today after a worker was killed and one left with life changing injuries when they were overcome by a toxic vapour cloud.

A little over sixteen months later there was another uncontrolled release of a toxic vapour during the cleaning of a redundant vessel.

The vessel, which is normally connected to the chemical production plant, was being replaced. The old vessel was removed and stored, for around three-years, with a number of tonnes of residual Titanium Tetrachloride.

The Health and Safety Executive’s investigation found that the company made the decision to clean the vessel. The company poorly managed the design and installation of fabricated plates to seal the vessel before carrying out the cleaning process. The plates were incompatible, incorrectly designed and used inappropriate sealants that could not contain the gas created during the procedure, releasing a toxic vapour cloud.

Cristal Pigment UK Ltd of Stallingborough pleaded guilty to the following charges: Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, for the 2010 incident and also Regulation 4 of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 for the 2011 incident. The company was fined £1.8m and £600,000 for charges associated with the incident on 5 March 2010 and £600,000 for the charge associated with the incident on 27 July 2011 with £37,868.00.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Brian Fotheringham commented: “The incident of 5 March 2010 caused the death of one employee and life changing injuries to another. Had the wind been blowing in the opposite direction it could also have caused a local disaster. However, the company still did not learn lessons from the 2010 incident and had another significant release of the same toxic gas just over a year later.

“This case must act as a reminder to the industry that there can be no room for complacency when dealing with such dangerous chemicals.”

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Comments
  • Allen Wilson
    Reply

    It would appear apparent that the HSE also did not learn. If they had prosecuted promptly after the 2010 incident, the 2011 incident may not have happened. Instead they took more than six year to prosecute. What sort of message does that send out; apathy is how I would best describe it. Perhaps the HSE would like to comment upon this dreadful unprofessional delay.
    Allen Wilson