Health & Safety in the news: DSEAR breach leaves worker in a coma

A Bedfordshire waste company has been sentenced after two of its employees suffered burns whilst processing flammable aerosol containers.

What happened?

On 12 July 2016, two workers were processing flammable aerosol canisters using an industrial plastic shredder. The canisters were highly pressurised and, while using a gas operated forklift to lift them into a shredder, a spark from the forklift ignited a cloud of gas created by the shredded canisters leading to an explosion.

Were the workers injured?

Both workers were injured, one suffered serious third degree burns which left him in an induced coma for 10 days, on a life support machine. The individual has undergone several operations and has been left with considerable permanent scarring and a lifelong dependency on medication for nerve pain.

What did the investigation reveal?

The HSE’s investigation found that:

  • The work was not suitably planned
  • The workers had not been supervised by a competent person
  • The work has not been carried out in a safe manner

What was the outcome?

B&W Waste Management Services Ltd of Thurleigh Road, Milton Earnest pleaded guilty to breaching Regulations 6 (1) of Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations 2002 (DSEAR) and was fined £100,000 with costs of £11,603.14.

What did the HSE say?

Speaking at the hearing, HSE inspector Andrew McGill said: “Those in control of work have a responsibility to devise safe methods of working and to provide the necessary information, instruction and training to their workers in the safe system of working.

If a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incident, the life changing injuries suffered by one employee, could have been prevented.”

Lessons to be learnt

Lee Mockridge, Health & Safety Development Manager at Citation, said:

“The way in which substances are stored (i.e. liquid, gas, pressurised etc.), in what quantity, location and the way that they are processed should all be considered when handling such things. “

“Looking at the physical impact on the injured employee, it is unfortunate to think of how this could’ve been avoided or at least lessened by correctly assessing their process and implementing simple controls.”

“DSEAR is often something that confuses many companies as there is some complexity as to where it is applicable and to what, but this is a clear example of where its guidance would be imperative to apply suitable controls and avoid similar instances happening again. DSEAR assessments are something that should be picked up as a necessary addition to a Fire Risk Assessment and completed to a suitable and sufficient standard. Its findings should go towards all means of safety management where handling such substances is applicable.”

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