Tata Steel UK Fined after Exposing Workers to Toxic Chemical

On the 11th of August this year, Hull Crown Court ordered Tata Steel UK to pay £930,000 in fines and £70,000 in cost for its failure to take appropriate safety measures to prevent the release of toxic and flammable chemicals in its site in Scunthorpe.

Tata Factory Scunthorpe

During the hearing of the case at Hull Crown Court, witnesses gave evidence on how a large quantity of Benzole was released through a ‘sight glass’ at Tata’s processing site plant in Scunthorpe. A sight glass is generally used on boilers and storage tanks to let operators see the liquid level inside. However, the court heard that ‘sight glasses’ at Tata’s Scunthorpe processing site were often left open, when they have been closed.

On the day of the incident, a worker discovered the gas release and gone to find help, however the gas cloud dangerously grew as “alarm levels were wrongly set”. The large flammable vapour cloud, described as resembling a “thick grey fog”, could have seriously injured or killed five workers had it been ignited. However, two of the exposed workers were taken to the hospital after suffering from coughing and breathing difficulties. They were discharged the next day.

According to the prosecutor for the HSE, its investigation found that Tata Steel failed to take the appropriate safety measures to avoid the release of the toxic and flammable chemical. The prosecutor also added that in 2007, contracting engineering ABB had identified and informed Tata about the potential for ‘vapour cloud eruption and operator fatality.’ The same issues were mentioned on subsequent reports. However, Tata failed to address the risk and didn’t implement recommendations outlined by the reports.

Tata Steel UK Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2 (1) and 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

In a statement after the hearing, HSE inspector Stephen Hargreaves said: “It was extremely fortunate no one was seriously affected by this incident. Had the flammable vapour cloud ignited this could have resulted in multiple fatalities.

“This incident highlights the need for all duty holders to implement and address all concerns and potential risks which have been identified. Tata’s failure to do so in this case put a number of workers at risk of serious harm.”

To find out more about health and safety at work act 1974 visit www.hse.gov.uk