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Pharmaceuticals firms fined for chemical incidents at Welsh plant

Date:
13 December 2013

Two Flintshire pharmaceutical firms have been fined for multiple safety and environmental breaches which caused workers’ major health problems and resulted in releases to the environment – including failures to comply with two HSE enforcement notices.

Archimica Chemicals Limited and its trading partner, Euticals Ltd, were prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) in proceedings covering four separate cases.

Mold Crown Court heard that the incidents happened at the firms’ factory on Prince William Avenue, Sandycroft, between November 2011 and November 2012.

– In November 2011, methyl iodide, a highly toxic substance that can affect the central nervous system was released into the atmosphere as a result of poorly written procedures which failed to identify when a safety critical valve should be open.

– In February 2012, an agency worker was exposed to methyl iodide after being provided with inadequate respiratory protection. He spent three weeks in hospital with iodine poisoning which has left him with long lasting effects, including depression, headaches and speech difficulties.

– In June and July 2012, a worker was exposed three times to methyl iodide as a result of inadequate decontamination training. He was treated in hospital for a full body rash and blisters on his wrist and ankles. He returned to work but again developed the same symptoms and was eventually diagnosed with occupational dermatitis.

– On 26 July 2012, an agency worker almost died from a pulmonary embolism after being exposed to methyl iodide while training. HSE found he had been issued with poorly fitted respiratory protection in the knowledge that methyl iodide levels were exceeding workplace exposure limits in many areas. The worker was hospitalised for three months and he has been left with permanent impairment to his speech, memory and mobility. He remains prone to seizures with a high risk of deep vein thrombosis.

– In November 2012, three workers were exposed to dichloromethane (DCM), a hazardous substance with narcotic and possible carcinogenic effects that are potentially fatal, when a process vessel was overfilled and it overflowed into a ventilation system. The men were unaware of the vessel’s filling rate and the filling apparatus was not fitted with a trip device or alarm to prevent overfill. One of the men was rendered unconscious and all three were taken to hospital.

Archimica Chemicals Ltd, of Prince William Avenue, Sandycroft, Deeside, admitted four beaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and Euticals Ltd, of the same address, admitted four breaches for failing to comply with two HSE improvement notices requiring improvements to competency and training and the provision of a system to manage, maintain, test and examine workplace equipment and machinery.

Euticals Ltd also admitted two breaches of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 as part of a Natural Resources Wales prosecution heard at the same time.

Archimica Ltd was fined a total of £80,000 and Euticals Ltd was fined £20,000 for the health and safety breaches and £20,000 for the environmental charges.

Both companies are now in liquidation and the site is being decommissioned.

After sentencing, HSE Inspector Mark Burton, said:

“The multiple failings arising from this prosecution are extremely serious and could have had even more devastating consequences.”

“Two of those exposed to methyl iodide have been left with permanent, life-changing after effects. The lack of competent management, control and understanding of the site’s major hazard and chemical processes could have led to these being fatal investigations, as could the incident to the workers who were exposed to methylene chloride.

“Euticals Limited and Archimica Chemicals Ltd, were fully aware of the standards required to protect workers and ensure that equipment, systems and processes were fit for purpose, yet there is clear evidence of systematic health and safety failings over a prolonged period despite continue advice and support from the regulator to gain compliance.

“Health and safety should not be neglected, overlooked or compromised, especially in a high risk environment where there are hazardous and dangerous substances.”

Tim Jones, from Natural Resources Wales said:

“Companies that deal with potentially hazardous chemicals, like Euticals Ltd, have permits with strict conditions in place to protect the local communities and the surrounding environment.

“Despite advice and support from our officers, the company consistently failed to meet the conditions and standards we set, placing local people, the environment and their own staff at risk.”

Notes to Editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice, promoting training, new or revised regulations and codes of practice, and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
  2. Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.” Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”
  3. Section 31(1)(g) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: ‘It is an offence for a person to contravene any requirement or prohibition imposed by an improvement notice or a prohibition notice (including any such notice as modified on appeal).’ Further HSE news releases are available at www.hse.gov.uk/press

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