Chemical spill risks work accident

A large amount of waste solvents has been spilled after a tank collapsed at a chemical company in Rye, East Sussex. The tank, which was made of steel collapsed after internal corrosion. Around 340 tonnes of chemicals spilled out. A valve was also knocked off an adjoining tank, spilling another 90 tonnes of contaminated waste water onto the site. The spilled solvents and waste provided a potent fire hazard and a 300m cordon was created for 2 days as a precaution. A HSE inspection found that the site managers had not been following proper tank inspection procedures. Inspectors issued notices requiring the immediate inspection of other tanks on the site and a suitable inspection procedure to be implemented. The company was also fined £150,000 as a result of the incident, plus £20,000 costs. It is extremely lucky that no one was injured. This incident could very easily have lead to a number of work accidents.

One of the world’s worst industrial disasters occurred in Bhopal, India in 1984. Toxic gases leaked from a pesticide plant. Government figures state that 3,787 died as a result, although some estimates state that around 3,000 died in the weeks after the event and another 8,000 have died since, as a result. In 2006, the Indian government confirmed that the disaster had caused 558,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary or partial injuries and 3,900 permanently disabling or severe injuries. Several people have since been tried for negligence since the disaster. It was found that a number of factors contributed to the disaster. The manufacturing process was dangerous and relied too heavily on manual labour. There was a lack of skilled operators and the safety management and emergency planning were inadequate. There was also insufficient maintenance and safety devices, for example, the tank alarms had not functioned in four years.

This is obviously an extreme example but it demonstrates the dangers of working with toxic chemicals. Health and safety checks such as tank inspections are put in place to protect workers. If safety procedures are not put into place and followed, the results can be disastrous. If you are involved in a work accident that is considered ‘foreseeable,’ you may entitled to compensation. A work accident is considered foreseeable if your employer should have considered the possibility of it occurring as part of their risk assessment and taken steps accordingly to prevent it. For example, the collapse of the tank at the plant in Rye can be considered foreseeable as the company should have assessed that this could happen and could have taken steps to prevent it. The fact that they had an inspection procedure indicates that this was partly carried out but the fact that the procedure was not followed indicates that the employer was negligent. If any employees had been injured as a result, they would have been eligible for compensation.

Another incident occurred in January this year when a lorry collided with a tanker carrying a substance believed to be ethanol (as reported by the Hunts Post). A 200m cordon was set up and local residents were advised to stay indoors and keep doors and windows closed whilst the spill was being cleaned up. This process took around 8 hours, causing heavy traffic delays. The driver of the lorry was taken to hospital with serious but not life-threatening injuries, as a result of the collision.

This accident demonstrates that it is not only in the manufacturing process that accidents can occur but at any point where workers come into contact with chemicals. There are various laws and regulations which cover the transport of chemicals, including making sure that containers are clearly labelled. This information gives emergency services a clear idea about what they are dealing with if an accident does occur.

Accidents can also occur if chemicals are used in the workplace. In 2008, a woman was treated for burns to her lips after there was a spill of formaldehyde in an operating theatre at a hospital in Essex. The use of formaldehyde is restricted because it can cause cancer, allergic reactions and reproductive problems and its use needs to be very carefully monitored in the workplace.

If you have been involved in a work accident that has involved exposure to chemicals, you will need a solicitor on your side who has the legal expertise to be able to guide you through the process of making a claim for compensation. Some solicitors ‘buy in’ work from claims management companies. These solicitors will not necessarily have the experience and expertise that you would look for when selecting your own solicitor. At Macks Solicitors, we are proud to say we have never ‘bought in’ work; we have relied on our hard-earned reputation to gain new clients. Contact us to speak to an expert about your claim.


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