An international chemical company has been heavily fined after a pipe split at a plant resulted in acid burns to the faces of three workers.
Polimeri Europa UK Limited was sentenced on 29 November 2013 after being prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive for failing to ensure that it had taken reasonably practicable steps to protect its employees from coming to harm as a result of workplace practices. The firm was, as a result, ordered to pay almost £140,000 in costs and fines by the Southampton Crown Court.
The incident occurred on 13 December 2011 at Polimeri Europa UK Ltd’s plant in Hythe, Southampton. On the day in question the three workers – who were contractors working at the site – were engaged in the course of their employment when a pipe carrying sulphuric acid split, catapulting the corrosive liquid almost sixty feet into the air. This acid then landed on the contractors, causing burns to their face. However, quick action on the part of workers and other staff members – including showering on site after the accident and quick treatment from a first aid kit – ensured that the injuries to the workers were more limited than they may necessarily have been otherwise.
The Health and Safety Executive were notified of the accident and subsequently investigated. This investigation found that the pipework carrying the sulphuric acid had badly corroded and that this had caused the split in the pipeline. The HSE further identified that there had been health and safety breaches by the company, including a failure to properly investigate the corroded pipework over the preceding years because of concerns by the company that other pipework carrying other potentially hazardous liquids should be investigated first. The HSE therefore recommended that the company be prosecuted for the health and safety failings.
The case came before the Southampton Crown Court on 29 November 2013. Polimeri Europa UK Limited pleaded guilty to a breach of s.2 and s.3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £120,000, as well as being ordered to pay the prosecution’s full costs at £18,023.
HSE Inspector Sally Morgan stated after the sentencing: “These workers received acid burns in an incident that could have been prevented. Polimeri Europa UK Ltd should have ensured that their pipework, much of it over 50 years old, was subject to a thorough and timely inspection regime… High hazard sites must ensure that there are rigorous monitoring procedures in place for such systems.”
Chris Hadrill, an employment solicitor at Redmans Solicitors, commented on the case: “Organisations in the United Kingdom have obligations to comply with health and safety legislation – if they fail to do so they may not only be subject to criminal prosecution and potentially heavy fines but they may also find that their employees are injured by their failings.”