Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

March 22, 2016

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£200k fine following toxic chemical release

A chemical company has been sentenced in Leeds Crown Court for safety breaches when a very toxic chemical was ejected under pressure.

A company maintenance technician unintentionally opened a valve on top of an isotanker at Syngenta Ltd’s Huddersfield plant resulting in the release of between 3.5 and 3.8 tonnes of paraquat dichloride solution. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted the firm over the incident.

Syngenta admitted two charges contravening regulations, failing to ensure that work equipment was maintained in an efficient state and failing to take all measures necessary to prevent a major accident, the firm’s first conviction.

Syngenta Ltd of Leeds Road Huddersfield pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4 of the Control Of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 and Regulation 5(1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined £200,000 with £13,041 costs by Leeds Crown Court.

Judge David Hatton QC said he accepted Syngenta was a responsible company with a good safety record.

He said: “What occurred was a combination of a defect in the coupling for which there was no regime of routine inspection and maintenance and also pressure in the tanker caused by a failure to adequately vent the tanker so pressure arose because the isolation valve below the cow horn adaptor was at the material time closed.”

But the judge said the event could very easily have “had a tragic end, even for example by Mr Morris having ingested a small quantity had he had his mouth open at the time.”

After the hearing, HSE inspector Angus Robbins commented: “This incident could have been prevented if Syngenta had properly assessed the real risk of the value being opened while the tank was under pressure”.

Dominic Adamson representing the company expressed “sincere regret” for the incident that gave rise to this prosecution. He added: “Syngenta takes responsibility for health and safety very seriously and the loss of its unblemished track record is a heavy blow.”

He said they accepted there was an omission in their maintenance regime regarding the couplings which had now been rectified.

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