Back to Legal Industry News

Firm in court over chemical burns

An international chemical company has been sanctioned in court following an accident in which three members of staff suffered severe chemical burns in December 2011.

The workers were employed by an onsite contractor at the Southampton premises of Polimeri Europa UK when the accident occurred, with pipework at the facility suffering a catastrophic failure and ejecting a jet of sulphuric acid more than 20 metres into the air and dousing the individuals.

Following the event, the company's practices became the subject of an investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), with the regulator revealing the firm had failed to carry out regular maintenance on the more than 9,250 metres of pipework at the plant over recent years, leading directly to the accident taking place.

The three men were working on unrelated tasks in the vicinity of the rupture when it occurred, with all three suffering acid burns to their faces, although more serious injuries were avoided as they were quickly able to wash off the corrosive substance in showers at the facility.

It later emerged the firm had scheduled widescale maintenance plans for the pipework in 2008, but these measures had been consistently put off as the company focused its efforts on maintaining other areas of the facility.

Polimeri pleaded guilty to breaching both Section 2(1) and Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 at Southampton Crown Court on Friday (November 29th).

HSE inspector Sally Morgan commented after the hearing: "Polimeri is part of an international chemical company and would be well aware of the legal requirement to ensure ongoing integrity of the sulphuric acid pipework, but they failed to do this for many years. The result was a system that gradually and invisibly became more and more dangerous."

As a result of this lack of health and safety best practice, the company was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of approximately £18,000.