December 13, 2017

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In court

Extraction system could have prevented lone worker’s asphyxiation

Chelsea & Westminster NHS Trust and Imperial College London have been fined after the death of a lone worker.

Southwark Crown Court heard how Damian Bowen was asphyxiated whilst working with liquid nitrogen at St Stephens Centre Laboratory, Fulham Road, London, which is owned by Chelsea & Westminster NHS Trust. He lost his life whilst decanting liquid nitrogen which he was using to freeze blood samples for transport.

Imperial College London undertook work for the International Aids Vaccine Institute in the rooms it occupied in the same laboratory suite. Imperial College London rented the room and owned the liquid nitrogen store there.


The Health and Safety Executive’s investigation into the incident, which occurred on 23 October 2011, found the local exhaust ventilation provided to extract dangerous substances, such as liquid nitrogen, had been switched off.

According to the investigation, Mr Bowen’s death could have been prevented if the extraction system had been switched on.

Chelsea & Westminster NHS Trust pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 (1) and Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay costs of £23,069.19.

Imperial College London pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 (1) and Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £70,000 with costs of £23,069.19.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Anne Gloor said: “Liquid nitrogen rapidly expands as a gas, replacing the oxygen in a room and creating a situation where life cannot be sustained.

“Mr Bowen was working alone with liquid nitrogen in a small room without any extraction. If the extraction system had been switched on, Mr Bowen would not have died. There should have been a system in place to prevent the extraction being switched off, a proper system of maintaining the equipment and clear arrangements for preventing lone working with liquid nitrogen”.

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Ray Rapp
Ray Rapp
6 years ago

Another tragic and unnecessary death, but why has it taken 6 years to come to court!

6 years ago
Reply to  Ray Rapp

I would hazard an educated guess that complex arrangements regarding the “duties” owed by the owner of the facilities and the nitrogen store (C&W NHS Trust) and the employer (ICL), fixing culpability over the incident itself and the “confusion” over whether this was a Confined Space/COSHH/HASAWA breach may have led to CPS going ‘slow and careful’ with this one, in order to get the right result.