Explosive atmosphere planning oversight blasts chemical firm for £1.2m
Two workers suffered minor injuries from the blast when the chemical firm was operating the plant’s new hydrochloric acid (HCI) burner on 26 September 2013.
Chelmsford Crown Court heard on 7 July that the burner had been used only a few occasions previously. The site had been under construction and was undergoing commissioning.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident as the competent authority for the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations 1999 and found that the firm had routed the vent gas, which contained mostly hydrogen, through to the plant’s emergency scrubber.
As the gas was routed, it made contact with oxygen or chlorine, which ignited the gas and triggered an explosion, destroying a tank and displacing a scrubber column upwards and at an angle.
One worker suffered a grazed knee from a breeze block, which dislodged from the control room wall. A second worker suffered a minor caustic burn caused by a drip from the plant moments after the explosion.
The HSE investigation found that Industrial Chemicals, which has 300 employees and operates around 15 plants and supplies chemicals products to the detergent, paper and water treatment industries, had not identified the potential for an explosive atmosphere in the design, construction or commissioning of the plant. It served the company with a COMAH prohibition notice following the incident.
Industrial Chemicals, of Stoneness Road, West Thurrock, pleaded guilty to breaching reg 4 of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999. It was fined £1.2m and ordered to pay costs of £35,854.
Standard safety phrases for chemicals
The EC Regulation No 1272/2008 on Classification, Labelling and Packaging of Substances and Mixtures (CLP) came into force in 2015. They revoked the Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations 2009 (CHIP).
This new legislation triggered changes to safety data sheets and labels for hazardous substances. The most obvious was the move from black and orange warning symbols to a diamond shape with a white background, black pictogram and red outline.
Note. From 1 June 2017 all chemical products sold must show the new symbols on the labels.
What should you do?
Tip 1. When examining substance labels read signal words, warning symbols, plus H and P statements to quickly understand the nature of the risk and what you need to do about it. These also help you to identify which substance is the lowest hazard available to purchase.
Tip 2. New COSHH assessments should include the new red, black and white symbols and P and H statements so that they match the ones used on the packaging and safety data sheet of the substance.
Authorising plant operatives
When you appoint someone as a plant operator you should complete a formal authorisation process which confirms that safe systems of work have been agreed by all parties. Formalise this process with our new documents.
Setting the rules
Before operators are handed the keys to a telehandler, excavator, etc., you must check that they are competent and capable of operating the machine safely. This usually involves ensuring that the individual has been appropriately trained. For example, they produce a Construction Plant Competency Scheme card proving that they have been trained and meet the requirements of the scheme.