Last reviewed 16 January 2020

LMA Services Ltd, a chemical services company, has been sentenced for safety breaches after a fire which quickly took hold of buildings and storage areas at a chemical site.

Leeds Magistrates’ Court heard that on 30 June 2016, the fire started during a chemical dispensing operation in a warehouse in Pocklington.

Heptane, a highly flammable liquid, was being decanted by placing a bulk container of heptane onto racking at a height of about 1.5m. A table was positioned under the bulk container onto which a small electrical weighing scale was positioned. Four-litre metal cans were placed onto the scale and an employee filled the cans by weight by manually operating a tap on the bulk container in the warehouse building. During this process, the operator dropped the can he was filling, exited the warehouse quickly and raised the alarm. He did not suffer any serious injury. A flammable vapour created during the process came into contact with an ignition source (believed to be from the electrical weighing scales) causing the vapour to ignite. A fire spread quickly and destroyed the warehouse, the adjacent warehouse and an external storage area between the two.

According to HSG140, dispensing and decanting should be carried out in a way which reduces spills and dangerous releases of flammable vapours. The need for these operations should be assessed and, where possible, the risks should be minimised by the use of enclosed transfer systems. If an enclosed system cannot be used, the containers should be designed to minimise spillage, release of vapour and the effects of fire.

Employers are reminded to ensure adequate measures are taken to reduce the formation of flammable atmospheres so far as is reasonably practicable, and to ensure that only suitable electrical equipment is used in areas where a flammable atmosphere may be present.