Burscough explosion: Chemical firm fined after three injured

Aftermath of chemical blaze in Burscough
Image caption The aftermath of the blast at the Burscough industrial estate where three workers were seriously injured

A chemical firm has been fined £150,000 after three workers suffered serious injuries in an explosion.

Personnel Hygiene Services (PHS) Ltd pleaded guilty at Liverpool Crown Court to a health and safety breach in October 2010.

Three employees suffered serious burns when 150 aerosol cans were put in a nearby shredder at Burscough industrial estate.

PHS said the incident was of "great regret" and changes had been made.

The court heard that the employees were "caught in a fireball" and surrounding buildings near Tollgate Crescent were evacuated while firefighters dealt with the blaze.

A thick cloud of smoke developed above the fire.

Extremely flammable

Almost 60 police officers were deployed to oversee road closures and a cordon around the site, while smoke from the blaze drifted towards Southport.

A joint investigation by HSE and the Environment Agency found the company allowed 150 cans containing extremely flammable substances to be put into a shredder at the site, the court heard.

The investigation found that PHS had no procedure for checking the contents of boxes of waste materials delivered to the site.

The company also failed to ensure that a chemical specialist monitored the waste being put into the shredder to check for flammable substances.

A risk assessment carried out in April 2010, was found to be wholly inadequate after the company wrongly identified the risk of aerosols being added to the shredder as 'very unlikely'.

PHS Ltd, of Caerphilly, south Wales, admitted a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 at a hearing on Thursday.

A spokeswoman for PHS said: "We have cooperated fully with the HSE and Environment Agency at all times during the course of their investigations and have taken steps to prevent any such incident happening in the future, including reviewing and updating our processes and investing in state-of-the-art equipment in all of our relevant sites."

Principal HSE Inspector Neil Rothwell said: "The chemical waste industry has the potential to be extremely hazardous, and PHS could and should have done more to protect the lives of its employees and the public.

"The explosion and fire led to three workers being seriously injured and caused considerable disruption in the local area."

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