Tuesday 24 September 2013

Aesica Pharmaceuticals Ltd, a North East pharmaceutical company, has been fined £107,803 (inc. costs) for a serious safety breach which left a worker fighting for his life in hospital.
The circumstances were:
  • In 2007 a bromine bulk storage tank failed its insurance inspection and
  • Its planned replacement was postponed until 2012.
  • The tank had been taken out of service which included removing short sections of connecting pipework. 
  • The removal left the rest of the pipework, including some valves, suspended from a set of flexible bellows which allowed movement in the pipework, but were not designed to be weight-bearing.
  • The bolts on the bellows were badly corroded increasing the likelihood that they would rupture under any stress.
  • Over the next five years while pipework at one end was disconnected, the other end was still connected to pipework for filling an adjacent tank with bromine, which left it contaminated.
  • A further section of bromine pipework, which could also have become contaminated with bromine, was also inadequately supported.
  • When a worker subsequently removed cables from a valve, the bellows failed releasing 7L of bromine over him. 
  • Bromine is classified as potentially fatal if inhaled and can cause severe skin burns. The employee spent 48 hours in a life-threatening condition after inhaling the corrosive substance and also suffered severe skin burns and damage to one eye.
  • He was in hospital for four weeks and continues to receive treatment for his injuries. He has not yet returned to work.

The HSE Inspector said:
"This was a serious incident with potentially fatal consequences which was readily preventable. All employers and particularly those handling dangerous chemicals must not assume a lack of previous incidents means risks are adequately controlled. Measures must be in place to ensure, through robust audit and review that this is due to effective management and not just good fortune. Maintaining the mechanical integrity of process plant and pipework is essential to preventing the loss of hazardous chemicals. Any changes to plant must be carefully assessed to ensure it does not increase the risk of failure. Measures must be in place through an on-going programme of maintenance and inspection to ensure the continued integrity of the plant according to risk.

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