PHS fined £100k after chemical blaze

Personnel Hygiene Services has been ordered by a judge to pay £150,000 in fines and costs over a major explosion in 2010 at its waste management site in Burscough Industrial Estate, Lancashire that caused three workers to sustain serious burns.

PHS was prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive following the blast on 12 October 2010, which occurred when aerosol cans were put into an industrial shredder.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that three employees working near the shredder were caught in a fireball, and surrounding buildings had to be evacuated while firefighters dealt with the resulting blaze.

Nearly 60 police officers were deployed to oversee road closures and control a cordon around the site, and a thick cloud of smoke developed above the fire and was seen drifting from Burscough towards Southport. There was also extensive damage to the large warehouse that housed the shredder.

A joint investigation by HSE and the Environment Agency found the company had allowed around 150 cans containing extremely flammable substances to be put into a large shredder at the site on Tollgate Crescent.

The investigation found that PHS did not have a procedure for checking the contents of boxes of waste materials delivered to the site. The company also failed to ensure that a chemical specialist monitored the waste being put into the shredder to check for flammable substances.

Finally, a risk assessment carried out in April 2010 was found to be wholly inadequate after the company wrongly identified the risk of aerosols being added to the shredder as being 'very unlikely', and the consequences of this happening as 'moderate' meaning no action was taken as a result.

PHS Ltd, of Western Industrial Estate, Lon-Y-Llyn, Caerphilly, Wales, was fined £105,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £45,000 after pleading guilty to a breach of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 on 3 October 2013.

Neil Rothwell, HSE principal inspector, said: "The chemical waste industry has the potential to be extremely hazardous, and PHS could and should have done more to protect the lives of its employees and the public.

"The explosion and fire led to three workers being seriously injured and caused considerable disruption in the local area.

"The issue of waste materials being wrongly labelled is well known in the industry, so PHS shouldn't just have assumed it could add cardboard boxes to the industrial shredder without first checking what was in them.

"It could easily have made sure boxes were opened before they were put in the shredder. If it had, then the explosion and fire could have been avoided."

A spokesman for PHS said: "The health and safety of our employees is of paramount importance and this incident dating back to October 2010 is a matter of great regret. We have cooperated fully with the HSE and Environment Agency at all times during the course of their investigations and have taken steps to prevent any such incident happening in the future, including reviewing and updating our processes and investing in state-of-the-art equipment in all of our relevant sites."

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