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December 15, 2010

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Worker killed while crushing unmarked hazardous waste

Two companies and a manager must pay £500,000 in fines and costs after a worker caught fire when an aerosol canister he was crushing exploded.

Household cleaning-products manufacturer Jeyes UK Ltd produces the canisters at its factory on the Broomfield Industrial Estate in Mold, north Wales. All the canisters are put through quality-control tests, with those that do not pass being placed in a waste collection area, located in the factory’s yard.

On 12 April 2005, Jeyes hired a contractor to remove all the waste from the site. The faulty canisters had not been labelled as hazardous and were not separated from the non-hazardous waste in the yard. The contractor was not warned that the canisters contained extremely flammable chemicals.

The contractor collected the waste from the site and delivered it to Deeside Metal Company’s scrapyard at Saltney, in Chester. Deeside Metal Company site manager, Robert Roberts, accepted the delivery and instructed another employee at the site, Mark Wright, to crush the canisters in a metal baler.

As Mr Wright was crushing one of the canisters it caught fire and engulfed him in flames. The 37-year-old suffered 90 per-cent burns and died in hospital the following day.

The incident was investigated by the HSE and North Wales Police, who found that neither company had carried out a risk assessment before allowing workers to handle potentially hazardous materials.

On 18 April 2005, Jeyes was issued two Improvement Notices, which required it to carry out a risk assessment and review its storage procedures to ensure that hazardous materials are placed in a segregated area.

HSE inspector Jane Lassey said: “Both companies contributed to the death of Mr Wright by allowing this highly dangerous situation to arise. Jeyes UK had a clear responsibility to ensure the canisters were labelled correctly and separated from non-hazardous waste, and to have procedures to prevent such dangerous waste being inadvertently removed from their site. By failing to do this, they put workers in danger.

“Deeside Metal lacked proper procedures for handling hazardous materials and operating dangerous machinery. They assumed the canisters were empty, but this proved to be a fatal error of judgement.”

Jeyes appeared at Caernarfon Crown Court on 13 December and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £330,000 and £50,000 in costs.

Deeside Metal appeared at the same hearing and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 and reg.3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. It was fined a total of £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,000. Robert Roberts pleaded guilty to breaching s7(a) of the HSWA and was fined £10,000.

In mitigation, Deeside said it has invested in training for its staff so they can identify potentially hazardous waste. The company said this incident was largely down to human error by Roberts, but it accepted that it had a responsibility to better supervise its employees. Roberts no longer works for the company.

Jeyes told the court it has spent £300,000 on improving health and safety at the factory and has employed additional health and safety managers at the site. It complied with the Improvement Notices and now has systems in place to ensure that all canisters are labelled, and all hazardous waste is put into quarantine and kept separate from all other waste.

A Jeyes spokesman told SHP: “We were greatly saddened by Mr Wright’s death and we again extend our condolences to his family and deeply regret that the incident occurred.

“The company accepts that at that time it failed to properly segregate the hazardous waste materials on its Mold site, properly monitor the actions of third parties on the Mold site, and enforce its own health and safety policies

“For these reasons the company pleaded guilty and will not appeal against the judgement. For the record, we note that the incident occurred on third party premises.  Further, we maintain that we did not authorise the removal of the aerosol canisters that caused the tragedy.

“Since 2005, Jeyes has committed to, and prioritises, the safety and wellbeing of its staff and of those who come into contact with its business.”

Following the hearing, inspector Lassey said: “This is a tragic case and must serve as a warning to other companies handling potentially dangerous material about the consequences of not having safe working practices in place.”

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