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August 23, 2006

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Vapour cloud could have caused serious harm

A pharmaceutical company has been fined for failing to protect its employees after a highly flammable and toxic chemical overflowed and formed a potentially harmful vapour cloud at its premises in Queenborough, Kent.

Abbott Laboratories Ltd pleaded guilty before Sittingbourne magistrates on 7 August to a breach of s2(1) of the HSWA 1974, and reg.3(1) of RIDDOR 1995 for failing to report the incident. It was fined £10,000 on the first charge, £2000 on the second and ordered to pay the HSE’s costs of £11,221.81.

The court heard that on 3 November 2004, an Abbott employee was recovering heptane – a common gasoline additive and solvent that readily forms explosive mixtures with air – from a vessel, which became blocked. On attempting to clear the vessel the contents flowed on to the floor and a flammable vapour cloud formed inside the building. It did not ignite and eventually dispersed with no reported injuries.

HSE inspector Dominic Elliss commented: “Fortunately, the release of a large volume of flammable liquid inside the plant in this instance did not ignite. However, the potential for serious injury highlights the importance for anyone handling hazardous substances to regularly review their methods of work.”

Heptane is a severe respiratory irritant and central nervous system depressant, with exposure causing dizziness and loss of coordination. Higher concentrations can lead to coma and death.

Added inspector Elliss: “Employees handling dangerous materials not only require clear operating instructions under normal conditions but also on what action to take should the operation move away from these conditions. Employers should also have appropriate

and well-practised measures to deal with the consequences, should a release occur.”

No response was received from Abbott Laboratories to SHP’s requests for a comment on the case.


Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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