Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Solvay Solutions was fined £444,000 for hazardous gas leak

Chemical producer, Solvay Solutions UK Limited, was fined £444,000 (inc.costs) after a dangerous gas was released into the atmosphere causing disruption to the M5 and thousands of homes nearby.
The circumstances were:
  • The chemical processing plant in Oldbury included a welded steel bar, called a "rodder".
  • Solvay had failed to properly assess and act upon the risk of the rodder failing.
  • On 2 January 2009, the rodder failed at the weld and broke in two. 
  • One piece fell back and the other piece pulled clear, leaving an opening through which phosphorus and phosphine gas escaped.
  • Upon contact with air, these spontaneously ignited to produce phosphorous pentoxide. 
  • This reacted with the moisture in the air to produce a mist of phosphoric acid which drifted to a densely populated area.
  • During the incident the police set up road closures in the vicinity of the site; local sections of the M5 were closed by the Highways Agency,  and an estimated 4,500 people were asked to stay indoors for 2-3 hours.
  • The incident was reported to the European Commission.

The HSE inspector said:
“This was a long and complex case, but at the heart of it lay the fact that this company’s actions caused an incident that affected the public and workers. 
The loss of containment and failure in Solvay’s systems caused huge disruption and the outcomes could have been far worse. This case should serve as a warning to other companies dealing with harmful substances that they need to get their processes absolutely right, in order to ensure the safety of the public, if they don’t they will face the consequences.”

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