Friday 7 March 2014

Thames Cryogenics fined £9,500 after acetone fire

Thames Cryogenics, a specialist manufacturer of vessels and pipework designed to carry liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen was fined £9,500 (inc. costs) after a welder was seriously burned during unsafe hotwork.
The circumstances were:
  • There was an open bowl containing 7 litres of acetone, a highly flammable liquid, near a welding operation.
  • Thames Cryogenics did not consider the use of large quantities of acetone in an open container to be an issue, and there were 600 litres of acetone were on the premises at the time of the incident.
  • The acetone was intended for use as a degreasing agent, but that welders also cooled items in the open bowl.
  • The welder used it to quench a hot work piece and it ignited.
  • He attempted to move the container outside and it spilt onto and through his trousers. 
  • He was in hospital for a week and needed skin grafts.

The company admitted that the bowl in question had been in place since 1986, despite its highly flammable properties.
Inspectors identified numerous issues with the company’s safety management system, which resulted in three Improvement Notices being served to instigate changes. Following the incident, and in order to comply with the notices, smaller sealed containers were introduced for storing acetone for welders to use.
The HSE inspector said:
“This was an entirely preventable incident that left an employee with serious and extremely painful injuries. Fortunately he was able to return to work, but he was reliant on painkillers for several months afterwards as the burns healed following his skin grafts. The standards governing the use of highly flammable liquids are well established and well known in industry, so it is difficult to comprehend how Thames Cryogenics could mistakenly believe that leaving an open bowl of acetone seemingly unchecked for a prolonged period – in this case several decades – was acceptable. The incident demonstrates the importance of actively managing health and safety and following health and safety advice and guidance where appropriate. The use of flammable liquids must be properly risk assessed and controlled in industrial environments.”

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