Last reviewed 23 March 2021
Nasmyth Technologies Ltd, a global engineering company, has been fined after four employees were exposed to hazardous substances that caused significant ill health and time off work as a result.
Poole Magistrates’ Court heard how on 9 October 2017, between 150 and 200 litres of a chemical preparation, that included hydrofluoric acid, spilled across a large area of the factory floor at the company’s site in Dorset. Four workers were involved in the clean-up that took several hours. They were provided with inadequate personal protective equipment and respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to undertake a clear up, for which they had no training. Some of them suffered ill health following the incident, which included an asthma attack, a severe headache, nausea, sore eyes and throat. One of the workers, whose symptoms persisted, was referred by his doctor to a specialist for treatment.
Investigating Health and Safety Executive (HSE) officers found significant non-compliance regarding management of substances hazardous to health by the company, including that it had failed to carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment and had not prepared for this emergency situation. One of the failings was that the RPE (face masks) provided did not have the correct type of filter for protecting against hydrofluoric acid gas. Additionally, the type of RPE provided to workers relied on a good seal against the face in order to protect workers and no face fit tests had been undertaken to ensure the masks fitted the workers’ faces. Furthermore, workers were unshaven meaning their beards or stubble prevented an effective seal of the RPE to their faces.
There is a legal duty on employers under Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 requiring them to assess the risks that arise from the use of hazardous substances. This will include any arrangements to deal with accidents, incidents or emergencies, such as those resulting from serious spillages.
Companies are reminded that incidents such as this can be avoided by undertaking a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and then implementing the necessary controls, including emergency arrangements for dealing with a chemical spill and the provision of instruction and supervision to ensure safe working practices are followed. Spillages involving volatile hazardous chemicals usually require the wearing of approved breathing apparatus by staff involved in controlling the incident.