A Grimsby manufacturer of titanium dioxide products has been fined nearly £3 million following the death of one worker and another being left with life changing injuries.
Cristal Pigment UK Ltd of Stallingborough, near Grimsby, pleaded guilty to two charges of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 for an incident in 2010 and an additional breach of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 for a second incident in 2011.
The chemical company was fined £1.6 million and £600,000 for charges associated with the incident on March 5, 2010 and £600,000 for the charge associated with the incident on July 27, 2011 with £37,868.00.
Grimsby Crown Court heard that in the early hours of March 5, 2010, at the Grimsby plant of Cristal Pigment UK Limited (formerly Millennium Inorganic Chemicals), there was a build-up of Titanium Tetrachloride within a vessel. The chemical came into contact with water creating a violent reaction, which ruptured the vessel. The liquid came into contact with the air creating a large toxic vapour cloud.
One worker Paul Doyley, 48, was showered with the corrosive liquid and blanketed by the rapidly expanding toxic vapour cloud.
He died on March 18, 2010 from his injuries.
His colleague Ron Ingoldby was also covered by the dense cloud, surviving his injuries but with irreversible lung damage.
The large poisonous vapour cloud rapidly expanded to several metres in height and poured out from the site as a thick, dense white cloud. The wind blew the cloud out across the River Humber and closed down the shipping lanes for several hours, until the incident was eventually brought under control by the Humberside Fire and Rescue Service.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the company had deviated from the normal operating procedures, which led to the dangerous build-up of the chemical.
Parts of the plant and its procedures were poorly designed and the company had not established robust safety management procedures and systems of work to assess and control risk and to ensure that these were actually followed.
Just over a year later on July 27, 2011, there was another uncontrolled release of a toxic vapour during the cleaning of a redundant vessel.
The vessel, which is normally connected to the chemical production plant, was being replaced. The old vessel was removed and stored, for around three years, with a number of tonnes of residual Titanium Tetrachloride.
The Health and Safety Executive’s investigation found that the company made the decision to clean the vessel.
The company poorly managed the design and installation of fabricated plates to seal the vessel before carrying out the cleaning process.
The plates were incompatible, incorrectly designed and used inappropriate sealants that could not contain the gas created during the procedure, releasing a toxic vapour cloud.
HSE inspector Brian Fotheringham said: “The incident of March 5, 2010 caused the death of one employee and life changing injuries to another. Had the wind been blowing in the opposite direction it could also have caused a local disaster. However, the company still did not learn lessons from the 2010 incident and had another significant release of the same toxic gas just over a year later.
“This case must act as a reminder to the industry that there can be no room for complacency when dealing with such dangerous chemicals.”