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Company fined £100,000 after worker sprayed by toxic chemical

September 23 2013

A pharmaceutical company worker was left fighting for his life after safety breaches led to him being sprayed with a toxic chemical.

The employee was sprayed with seven litres of bromine as he removed cables from a valve connected to pipework at Aesica Pharmaceuticals on the Windmill Industrial Estate, Cramlington, Northumberland.

He spent 48 hours in a life-threatening condition after inhaling the corrosive substance and also suffered severe skin burns and damage to one eye.

The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted the company for safety failings.

Newcastle Crown Court heard was told that in 2007 a bromine bulk storage tank had been taken out of service which included removing short sections of connecting pipework.

The removal left the rest of the pipework, including some valves, suspended from a set of flexible bellows which allowed movement in the pipework, but were not designed to be weight-bearing.

The tank failed its insurance inspection and its planned replacement was postponed until 2012. Over the next five years while pipework at one end was disconnected, the other end was still connected to pipework for filling an adjacent tank with bromine, which left it contaminated.

When the worker removed the cables, the bellows failed releasing the Bromine over him.

Bromine is potentially fatal if inhaled and can cause severe skin burns. The employee was in hospital for four weeks and continues to receive treatment for his injuries. He has not yet returned to work.

HSE identified a number of health and safety issues which could have prevented the incident.

Aesica Pharmaceuticals Ltd, Q5, Quorum Business Park, Newcastle, was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £7,803 in costs.

After the case, HSE Inspector Graham Watson said: “All employers and particularly those handling dangerous chemicals must not assume a lack of previous incidents means risks are adequately controlled.

“Measures must be in place to ensure, through robust audit and review that this is due to effective management and not just good fortune.”

If you have suffered an accident at work call the Personal Injury team at PM Law on 0114 2965444.