Manufacturer fined over Legionnaires’ outbreak

A car parts manufacturer has been fined £1.6m following an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease and an explosion at its factory.

Four staff and a nearby resident became seriously ill as a result of the outbreak. A worker also suffered serious burns in an unrelated explosion at the plant.

Incompetent

An investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) traced the Legionnaires’ virus to cooling towers at the site.

It found the company had failed to effectively manage water cooling systems causing legionella bacteria within the water supply to grow to potentially lethal levels.

Ellis Whittam discusses Legionella further here.

In relation to the explosion, an operator was attempting to recover a part that had come off production rollers. There was an explosive atmosphere within the machine during normal production. The part came into contact with an electrostatic grid that created a spark and caused a dust explosion.

The HSE found measures protecting operators from explosion risks were inadequate. This was despite previous explosions occurring. The court heard further that the explosion was as an ‘accident waiting to happen’ and the result of cost-cutting, incompetence and lack of training.

Faltec Europe Limited admitted breaking the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was:

  • fined £800,000 for the Legionnaires’ outbreak
  • fined a further £800,000 for failings leading to the explosion
  • ordered to pay costs of £75,159

Controls

The HSE said:

  • improved control measures have since been enforced to better manage the Legionella risks
  • adequate control measures needed to be in place to prevent or mitigate explosions where dangerous substances create a fire and explosion risk

It added that:

  • the risks should have been assessed before the machine was put into use
  • previous incidents should have resulted in a comprehensive review by someone competent
  • operators need to be trained on the fire and explosion risks and understand the required controls

 

Director of Health & Safety Services

Nick Wilson

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