Take the aptly named Doncaster solvents company Solvents with Safety Ltd, which was recently fined after an “unsafe” procedure led to a huge fire that engulfed its Harworth base.
Earlier this month Doncaster Magistrates’ Court heard how employees of the company were transferring a “highly flammable” liquid from a bulk container into a smaller drum in June 2010. They were trying to fill the drum using a pipe that was too short. This meant dropping the liquid from the pipe into the drum, a process called “splash filling” that is known to generate static electricity.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said a build up of static electricity in the drum was thought to have ignited the vapour and sparked a fire that quickly spread to other containers of flammable and dangerous solvent mixtures at the site, some of which exploded.
All seven workers present at the time managed to escape unhurt after a quick-thinking supervisor ordered them to evacuate the site and called the emergency services. The initial blaze was described as “escalating to a raging inferno within minutes.”
However, what also emerged in court was that the HSE had written twice to Solvents With Safety – in May 2006 and December 2007 – to warn of the dangers of splash filling containers.
The company pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety regulations and was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £6,860 in costs. I imagine these costs were probably insignificant compared to the losses incurred following the destruction of its main premises.
With this story comes a simple lesson for all employers. You can’t really afford to ignore even the first warning sign when it comes to health and safety, never mind the second. Always act!