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March 31, 2010

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Failure to address chemical and mechanical risks costs recycling firm

An arson attack on a York recycling company cost it not just in terms of damage to its premises but also in the form of a fine for unrelated health and safety failings discovered during the subsequent investigation.

A disgruntled former employee of BCB Environmental Management Ltd started a blaze at the company’s site at Marston Business Park in Tockwith in October 2008. David Surtees was sentenced for the crime in November 2009, following an investigation by the North Yorkshire Police.

The HSE was called in to participate in that investigation to identify what had happened, and inspectors discovered a number of breaches, which resulted in the company appearing before Harrogate magistrates on 26 March.

The court heard that highly-flammable liquids were being “bulked up” – poured from one drum to another – in an area that was not suitable for this task. In addition, the vessels into which the liquids were being poured should have been earthed to avoid ignition by static electricity.

HSE Principal Inspector Linda Donachie told SHP: “There were sources of electrical ignition present, and the area was not zoned under the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR). Forklift trucks being used in the area were not adapted for such use. Basically, the tranche of precautions under regulation 6 of DSEAR to manage and eliminate risk were not in place.”

BCB Environmental Management Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching that regulation and reg.7, for failing to classify the area as a hazardous place. It was fined £15,000 on each charge.

The HSE investigation also uncovered a dangerous drum-crushing machine in use at the premises. The court heard it was missing a vital safety guard and, as a result, operators were exposed to dangerous internal mechanics, including a hydraulic ram capable of applying two tonnes of pressure. The safety stop switch was covered in so much grime and dust it was “almost unrecognisable”, so should an accident have occurred operators would have struggled to stop the machine.

Explained PI Donachie: “The crusher was designed with a door to prevent access to the dangerous parts but the interlock had been defeated so that the door could be kept open. It was the company’s responsibility to ensure that the interlocks were protected.”

In relation to this failing, BCB pleaded guilty to breaching reg.11 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and was fined a further £10,000. It was also ordered to pay total costs of £6110.

The total fine of £40,000 was deemed “excessive” by the company and it is considering appealing. Speaking after the hearing, managing director, Phil Boardman said: “BCB takes health and safety extremely seriously and we deeply regret falling short on this occasion as a result of significant managerial shortcoming at the time.

Since then, we have worked closely with the HSE to ensure that all our procedures are of the highest standard. While we accept full responsibility for the breach of the regulations regarding the storage of flammable liquid, we believe that the fine imposed was excessive in view of the technical nature of the offence.”

HSE inspector Stephen Britton, who investigated the case, commented: “BCB Environmental Management processed drums containing flammable liquid close to unprotected electrical equipment, creating a real risk that they could have gone up at any time. As a hazardous waste specialist, it should have been well aware of the relevant legislation and should never have handled flammable material in this way.

“The removal of the safety guard on the drum-crushing machine is unbelievable. The guard is there for one reason, and one reason only: to protect workers. The consequences of exposing human limbs to a two-tonne hydraulic crusher would be horrific.”

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14 years ago

Yet another example of how failing to enforce the EU Directive and Management Regs cost a company what they believe is too much.
I have been waiting 21 years now for a case where the REQUIREMENT to appoint one or more competent persons is used as the basis for prosecution. I’ll probably be dead before one occurs, yet the defects were obvious for anyone with a degree of (un)common sense let alone a competent person