Ereco EMEA Corporation Ltd, a Sussex based recycling company, has been prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) following an explosion at its site in Lingfield. The explosion and resulting fire, linked to the company’s storage of print toner, injured eight people. Of those, five suffered serious injuries, including one worker who was placed in an induced coma and spent 15 weeks in hospital.
A joint investigation by the HSE and Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) found that Ereco failed to ensure there was a safe system of work in place to reduce the risk of dangerous substances. The company should have carried out suitable fire risk assessments and followed guidelines in the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002.
The investigators also found that Paramount Waste Extraction Ltd, the company which designed the machinery used to shred and process the toner cartridges, did not consider the likely misuse of the machine by overloading the processing of toner with more than a residual amount of toner powder left inside. HSE and SFRS found that the company relied on generic data to determine whether an explosive atmosphere may arise.
Ereco pleaded guilty to breaching section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and an offence under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 for failing to take general fire precautions. Paramount Waste Extraction pleaded guilty to breaching section 3 (1) of the Healthy and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Following the sentencing hearing at Portsmouth Crown Court, Ereco was fined £60,000 (including costs) and Paramount was fined £32,000 (including costs).
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Michelle Canning said: “All the employees involved in this incident are extremely lucky this explosion didn’t prove fatal. Ereco failed to take the required precautions before starting a process of work with dangerous substances and this failure resulted in this serious, life threatening explosion. Both designers and suppliers must ensure that the risks of using their equipment are eliminated through safe design, and this should include taking into account foreseeable misuse.”
Philippa Luscombe, partner in the personal injury team at Penningtons Manches LLP, comments: “As a personal injury team we act for a number of individuals who suffer injury in the workplace. Often these injuries are life changing and a claim can be made if the injury was avoidable because of the employer’s failure to pay adequate heed to health and safety procedures and requirements. From the information available about the Ereco prosecution, it appears that there were a number of failures to have proper safety procedures in place despite the storage of dangerous substances with potential for explosion, which then occurred. This was an avoidable incident and it is encouraging to see the HSE step in, identify the failings and take steps that should help to ensure these companies take greater care for the welfare of their employees and others on site in future. We hope the companies concerned and their insurers will take a sensible approach to the claims brought by those who suffered serious injuries in this incident.”