A specialist manufacturer of vessels and pipework designed to carry liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen has been fined after a welder was seriously burned during unsafe hotwork.
The 38 year-old employee, from Oxford, who does not want to be named, was in hospital for a week and needed skin grafts after seriously burning his left leg in the incident at Didcot-based Thames Cryogenics Ltd on 23 January 2012.
An open bowl of acetone ignited as he used it to quench a hot work piece, spilling onto and through his trousers as he attempted to move the container outside.
Thames Cryogenics was prosecuted on 3rd March by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation identified that the acetone had been used for this purpose before – despite its highly flammable properties.
Oxford Magistrates’ Court heard the acetone was intended for use as a degreasing agent, but that welders also cooled items in the open bowl. It is unclear how often the quenching happened, although the company admitted in an interview that the bowl in question had been in place since 1986.
HSE established that Thames Cryogenics did not consider the use of large quantities of acetone – some seven litres – in an open container to be an issue, and that 600 litres of acetone were on the premises at the time of the incident.
The court was told that inspectors identified numerous issues with the company’s safety management system, which resulted in three Improvement Notices being served to instigate changes. Following the incident, and in order to comply with the notices, smaller sealed containers were introduced for storing acetone for welders to use.
Thames Cryogenics Ltd, of Gooch Drive, Didcot, was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £4,500 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
After the hearing, HSE inspector John Caboche said: "This was an entirely preventable incident that left an employee with serious and extremely painful injuries. Fortunately he was able to return to work, but he was reliant on painkillers for several months afterwards as the burns healed following his skin grafts.
"The standards governing the use of highly flammable liquids are well established and well known in industry, so it is difficult to comprehend how Thames Cryogenics could mistakenly believe that leaving an open bowl of acetone seemingly unchecked for a prolonged period – in this case several decades – was acceptable.
"The incident demonstrates the importance of actively managing health and safety and following health and safety advice and guidance where appropriate. The use of flammable liquids must be properly risk assessed and controlled in industrial environments.”