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Leak of dangerous substance leads to £20,000 fines

Date:
12 May 2015

A leak of corrosive potassium hydroxide on a lorry was an ‘immediate risk’ to public safety – but, after noticing it, the driver continued a 12-mile journey.

Magistrates were told that some of the 170 plastic jerricans containing 45 per cent solution of the corrosive substance had not been adequately tightened, nor securely stacked on pallets, which in turn were not adequately braced on the trailer.

The jerricans toppled over whilst being transported from Whitman Laboratories Ltd, in Petersfield, Hampshire, to Belgium, by a driver working for Allport Cargo Services Ltd, on 30 March 2014.

The driver noticed his load was leaking during a stop at a motorway service station on the M2 in Kent. He phoned his transport supervisor and said the substance was corrosive and that he wanted the emergency services to be called.

After consulting her line manager, the transport supervisor directed the driver to return to the company depot in Sittingbourne, some 12 miles away. On arrival, the extent of damage was realised and the emergency services were finally called –nearly two hours after the leak was originally discovered.

Six fire engines attended the scene and hosed down the contaminated area. The driver and warehouse supervisor, who had been called in to assist, were believed to have been exposed to the material. They were stripped down and hosed on site, before being taken to hospital for observation. The service station was also decontaminated.

Around 85 litres of potassium hydroxide was lost.

It transpired, during an investigation by HSE, that the jerricans had been loaded by an unsupervised contract employee, who had only started the job as a loader that week. The loader did not know how loads should be safety stowed and had not loaded a dangerous consignment previously. Whitman provided little guidance on safe stowage.

At Medway Magistrates’ Court, both companies pleaded guilty to a single offence under the Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations 2009. They were each fined £20,000 with costs of £3,438 and a £120 victim surcharge.

HSE inspector Andrew Lake said: “Potassium hydroxide can cause severe damage to eyes and skin and is classified as dangerous for transport. The responsibilities under the regulations are clear. It was only by chance that no-one was seriously injured in this incident.”

 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. Allport Cargo Services Ltd, of High Street, Cowley, Uxbridge, Middlesex, admitted they failed to comply with the requirements of CDG Regulation 5 in that they carried dangerous goods, namely over 4000kg of 45% potassium hydroxide solution, where that carriage did not comply with the applicable requirements of ADR (i.e. Annexes A and B to the European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road, as revised or reissued), including: a) carrying dangerous goods that were not adequately restrained as required by ADR 7.5.7.1; b) failing to immediately notify the emergency services when there was an immediate risk to public safety as required by ADR 1.4.1.2; and c) continuing a transport operation when the consignment did not comply with applicable regulations and without the authorization of the competent authority as per ADR 1.4.2.2.4.
  3. Whitman Laboratories Ltd, of Bedford Road, Petersfield, Hampshire, admitted they failed to comply with the applicable requirements of ADR for carriage of the same consignment by: a)not providing training to the employee who loaded the consignment about the requirements governing the carriage of dangerous goods in accordance with He pADR 1.3.2 appropriate to his responsibilities and duties; b) allowing the employee to perform functions for which training had not been provided whilst not being under the direct supervision of a trained person as required by ADR 1.3.1; c) loading dangerous goods that were not adequately restrained contrary to ADR 7.5.7.1; d) consigning and loading dangerous goods in non-removable head jerricans with closures that were not applied so that they were secure and leak-proof under normal conditions of carriage as per ADR 6.1.4.8.5
  4. HSE news releases are available at http://press.hse.gov.uk/

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