Aesica fined £100,000 after employee sprayed by bromine at Cramlington

Accepts Newcastle Crown Court ruling and has taken steps to ensure it was an isolated incident

UK contract pharmaceutical manufacturer Aesica has been fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs, after a worker was placed in a life-threatening condition after inhaling a corrosive substance.

In a hearing at Newcastle Crown Court, it was revealed that the worker was sprayed with seven litres of bromine as he removed cables from a valve connected to pipework at Aesica Pharmaceuticals' plant on the Windmill Industrial Estate, Cramlington, Northumberland. He inhaled the substance and also suffered severe skin burns and damage to one eye.

During the hearing, it was revealed that in 2007 a bromine bulk storage tank was taken out of service and prepared for an insurance inspection which included the removal of short sections of connecting pipework. The removal left some pipework, including some valves, suspended from a set of flexible bellows.

When the tank failed its insurance inspection, its planned replacement was postponed until 2012. In the intervening years, pipework at one end was disconnected, while the other end remained connected to an adjacent tank containing bromine.

When the worker subsequently removed the cables, the bellows failed releasing the bromine over him. He was in hospital for four weeks and continues to receive treatment.

All employers and particularly those handling dangerous chemicals must not assume a lack of previous incidents means risks are adequately controlled

An investigation by the UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the bolts on the bellows were badly corroded, while a further section of bromine pipework was found to be inadequately supported.

Aesica was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £7,803 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

HSE Inspector Graham Watson said: 'This was a serious incident with potentially fatal consequences which was readily preventable.

'All employers and particularly those handling dangerous chemicals must not assume a lack of previous incidents means risks are adequately controlled. Measures must be in place to ensure, through robust audit and review that this is due to effective management and not just good fortune.'

Steve Barker, an Aesica spokesman from Cramlington, said: 'This was an isolated incident during which only a small amount of bromine was released and was an unfortunate result of a mechanical failure of a pipework fitting at the site.

'We accept the Court’s ruling and have already implemented stringent measures to ensure this remains an isolated incident in what is a site with an exceptional safety record, spanning over 30-years of bromine use.’

He added that the company has a 'stringent commitment to the highest standards of safety and robust regulatory processes'.

'Our primary concern has and will always be the safety of our employees and we have reaffirmed our commitment to maintain an exceptional safety record at our facilities.

'We continue to evaluate our procedures and working practices to ensure we do everything within our power to prevent issues occurring in the future.'

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