Firm Fined Over Major Chemical Fire

Accident At Work

10.12.2009

A major chemical fire in Preston which closed two motorways has led to an international waste management company being fined £150,000 for health and safety breaches.

The inferno at the city's Red Scar Industrial Estate on Longridge Road was tackled by 66 firefighters, while police had to close sections of the M6 and M55 for several hours during the morning commute on July 2 2007.

Veolia ES Cleanaway (UK) was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after the body carried out a joint 15-month investigation alongside the Environment Agency and Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service.

Veolia, which has its headquarters on Pentonville Road in North London, admitted two offences at Preston Crown Court on 9 December. As well as the fine, the company was ordered to pay costs of £90,000.

The fire was extinguished by mid-afternoon after more than 132,000 litres of chemicals were set alight. HSE inspectors believe it was caused by lithium batteries igniting nearby waste materials.

Linda Murray, HSE Principal Inspector for Lancashire, said: "Our investigation showed that Veolia didn't do enough to make sure that the dangerous chemicals on its site in Preston were stored safely. The company also failed to provide adequate training for its staff.

"Any businesses that have flammable substances on their premises need to take appropriate measures to minimise the risk of fires or explosions. Veolia clearly could and should have done more."

Copyright © Press Association 2009

David Urpeth from law firm Irwin Mitchell said: “I welcome the fine imposed following this major accident at work.

“Companies that store, manufacturer or process flammable materials need to do so in a way that does not pose a risk to either workers or the public.

“Any work accident involving fire or explosions can be a major risk to life for both workers and local residents.

“I have helped many people pursue their compensation claim following injuries sustained following fires/explosions at work.”

Mr Urpeth represented over 75 workers and many residents who were injured in the 2001 at the Killingholme refinery when over 170 tonnes of liquid petroleum gas caught fire, the largest chemical disaster since Flixborough. Conoco-Phillips, who owned the plant, was eventually fined £1m for breaching health and safety regulations after the explosion at its Humber refinery.