Health & Safety – Company fined in caustic soda accident

On the 3rd January this year, Newcastle Crown Court heard a case where two employees had received serious burns whilst cleaning a pipe system.

The employees worked for PSL Worldwide Projects Ltd, an engineering company who are now in liquidation, but were working at a Hyclone UK Ltd site in Cramlington at the time of the accident.

They were using Sodium Hydroxide (caustic soda) granules to clean a pipe system. During the cleaning process, the granules reacted with water in the system. This caused the resulting solution to heat up, building pressure in the hose used. The pressure caused the hose to detach and the employees were sprayed with the chemical solution.

Both of the employees received burns in the accident, with one of the employees’ burns being life threatening, resulting in them having to be resuscitated when at hospital.

Following an investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), PSL Worldwide Projects Ltd were found to have breached Section 2(1) of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 as the task of cleaning the pipes did not have an appropriate risk assessment, the equipment provided to carry out the task of cleaning the pipes was not suitable, and the employees were not provided with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

PSL Worldwide Projects Ltd plead not guilty when the case was heard at Bedlington Magistrates Court, and the case was referred to Newcastle Crown Court for sentencing after they were found guilty. The company were fined £150,000, but as the company was in administration, no costs were awarded. Compensation for the employees would be dealt with by the company’s insurers.

HSE inspector Laura Catterall said “If a suitable risk assessment had been undertaken it would have identified that the equipment being used was not right for the chemicals or the work being carried out. All companies who work with high hazard chemicals should learn from this case and ensure that their workers are properly protected.”

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