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December 17, 2008

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Electrician unaware basement was full of carbon dioxide

An electrician was treated for gas inhalation after two workers left a basement unattended, which was filled with carbon dioxide.

Birmingham Magistrates’ Court heard that two employees of Denso Manufacturing Midlands Ltd were carrying out decommissioning work at the firm’s old premises in Hall Green, Birmingham when the incident occurred on 31 October 2007.

Denso had recently moved to larger premises and the two employees were preparing the company’s old site for clearance. During the course of their work they came across a basement sub-station and proceeded to decommission a fire-suppression unit that was inside the basement. To do this, the men released carbon dioxide from 11 large cylinders and immediately left the room, leaving a hatch open for ventilation. The men were unaware that carbon dioxide was heavier than air and would not be able to escape the room.

After aerating the room for 45 minutes, the men left the basement unattended while they went to get lunch. While the men were away a contracted electrician, who had been working in the basement before the men arrived, re-entered the room unaware that it was filled with carbon dioxide. On entry to the basement the electrician noticed an unpleasant taste to the air and immediately left the room. Once outside, he felt weak and faint, and approached a colleague who called for an ambulance. He was treated for gas inhalation but didn’t receive any permanent injuries.

On 12 December Denso pleaded guilty to breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the HSWA 1974 and reg.3(1) of the MHSWR 1999. The court fined the firm £28,000 and ordered it to pay costs of £5278.

In mitigation, Denso accepted that it had failed to carry out a proper risk assessment and apologised for the incident. The company also revealed that it was moving out from its current premises due to financial concerns. As a result of the incident, it has sought external professional advice to ensure safe practices of work are used during the decommissioning work.

HSE inspector Ed Fryer told SHP: “Denso did not do all that was reasonably practicable to ensure either the health and safety of their own employees or the contractor. The root cause of this accident is a failure of the company to identify the risks and take appropriate action, something that could have been achieved by conducting a suitable and sufficient risk assessment at the planning stage of the project.

“It would be too frightening to speculate what the consequences might have been, not only for the two employees or the electrician but for anybody who unwittingly entered that basement after the gas had been released.”

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