Pharmaceutical firms fined £120,000 for chemical incidents at plant in Wales

16-Dec-2013

Workers have been left with permanent injuries

Two Flintshire pharmaceutical firms have been fined by the UK\'s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for multiple safety and environmental breaches which caused workers’ major health problems and resulted in releases to the environment. The firms also failed to comply with two HSE enforcement notices.

Archimica Chemicals and its trading partner, Euticals, were prosecuted by the HSE and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) in proceedings covering four separate cases.

Mold Crown Court heard that the incidents happened at the firms’ factory on Prince William Avenue, Sandycroft, between November 2011 and November 2012.

In November 2011, methyl iodide, a highly toxic substance that can affect the central nervous system, was released into the atmosphere as a result of poorly written procedures which failed to identify when a safety critical valve should be open.

In February 2012, an agency worker was exposed to methyl iodide after being provided with inadequate respiratory protection. He spent three weeks in hospital with iodine poisoning which has left him with long lasting effects, including depression, headaches and speech difficulties, the HSE said.

In June and July 2012, a worker was exposed three times to methyl iodide as a result of inadequate decontamination training. He was treated in hospital for a full body rash and blisters on his wrist and ankles. He returned to work but again developed the same symptoms and was eventually diagnosed with occupational dermatitis.

The multiple failings arising from this prosecution are extremely serious and could have had even more devastating consequences

On 26 July 2012, an agency worker almost died from a pulmonary embolism after being exposed to methyl iodide while training. The HSE found that he had been issued with poorly fitted respiratory protection in the knowledge that methyl iodide levels were exceeding workplace exposure limits in many areas. The worker was hospitalised for three months and he has been left with permanent impairment to his speech, memory and mobility. He remains prone to seizures with a high risk of deep vein thrombosis.

In November 2012, three workers were exposed to dichloromethane (DCM), a hazardous substance with narcotic and possible carcinogenic effects that are potentially fatal, when a process vessel was overfilled and it overflowed into a ventilation system. The men were unaware of the vessel’s filling rate and the filling apparatus was not fitted with a trip device or alarm to prevent overfill. One of the men was rendered unconscious and all three were taken to hospital.

Archimica Chemicals admitted four breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, while Euticals admitted four breaches for failing to comply with two HSE notices requiring improvements to competency and training and the provision of a system to manage, maintain, test and examine workplace equipment and machinery.

Euticals also admitted two breaches of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 as part of a Natural Resources Wales prosecution heard at the same time.

Archimica was fined £80,000, while Euticals had to pay a total of £40,000.

Both companies are now in liquidation and the site is being decommissioned.

\'The multiple failings arising from this prosecution are extremely serious and could have had even more devastating consequences,\' said HSE Inspector Mark Burton.

\'Euticals and Archimica Chemicals were fully aware of the standards required to protect workers and ensure that equipment, systems and processes were fit for purpose, yet there is clear evidence of systematic health and safety failings over a prolonged period despite continue advice and support from the regulator to gain compliance.

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\'Health and safety should not be neglected, overlooked or compromised, especially in a high risk environment where there are hazardous and dangerous substances.\'