Today, Tata Steel has been ordered to pay £1m after it exposed five people to toxic substances at Scunthorpe Steel Works.
A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation showed it failed to take appropriate safety measures after the firm admitted releasing a quantity of Benzole, exposing five workers to risk of death from flammable vapours coming off it, in June 2011.
The HSE said two of the workers involved in the incident were exposed to the chemical and suffered coughing and breathing difficulties. They were sent to hospital and discharged the next day. It said the release of Benzole could have caused serious injury or death had it been ignited.
HSE inspector Stephen Hargreaves stated that:
"It was extremely fortunate no one was seriously affected by this incident. Had the flammable vapour cloud ignited this could have resulted in multiple fatalities.
At a previous hearing, the company also pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. In particular, section 5 was breached which states;
‘It shall be the duty of the person having control of any premises of a class prescribed for the purposes of section 1(1)(d) to use the best practicable means for preventing the emission into the atmosphere from the premises of noxious or offensive substances and for rendering harmless and inoffensive such substances as may be so emitted.’
This incident highlights the need for all duty holders to implement and address all concerns and potential risks which have been identified within their business.
Furthermore, the HSE prosecution underlines the importance of good workplace health and safety practice, reminding not only the steel industry, but all manufacturers that they will be held accountable for not fulfilling their obligations.
If you require assistance with an investigation by the HSE or need advice with a view to avoiding prosecution or achieving the best possible outcome, please do not hesitate to contact Andrew Swan - Head of Regulation and Financial Crime or Sheila Ramshaw- Specialist in Regulation at Short, Richardson & Forth on 0191 232 0283.