Tata Chemicals fined £1.1m after fatal burn incident

  • Health & Safety
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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

A fatal incident has seen Tata Chemicals Europe Limited fined for breaching health and safety law.

Michael Densmore, 37, a scaffolder employed by Altrad NSG in November 2016 to work on Tata’s chemical plant in Lostock Hall, Northwich. He and a number of his colleagues were erecting a scaffold when his right foot slipped into a trough containing calcium hydroxide, a liquid chemical that caused chemical and thermal burns.

The liquid, better known as ‘milk of lime’, had been heated to about 90 degrees centigrade. The lid covering the trough was unfastened, which caused Mr Densmore’s foot to slip inside.

Having sustained chemical and thermal burns to his foot and ankle, he was airlifted to Whiston Hospital burns unit. Following specialist treatment and surgery, he was discharged in December 2016.

Some weeks later in January 2017, Mr Densmore suffered a haemorrhage to his right foot. He was taken to hospital but died of his injury.

Hi family issued a statement, describing him as “a loving and amazing role model” to his sons and two nieces:

“Our lives fell apart and have not been the same since that terrible day,” they said. “Nobody should have to lose someone they love, due to an accident that happened at work.

“A mother should never have to give CPR to her own son, and a partner, should never have to tell their children that their dad will not be coming home.

“The trauma, we have all suffered as a family, cannot truly be put into words. We were once a small happy close-knit family, who all lived life to the full, with Michael being the leader and now we just about get through each day.”

The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), who discovered there was no permit to work in place for hazardous work in a live chemical plant. They remarked that little proper thought had been given to the risks involved by those responsible for ensuring staff safety.

Further findings established that the scaffolding team had no clearly understood plan to address the risks of working alongside hazardous substances. Mr Densmore had a brief induction when he started work on site, some months before the incident. There had been no warning that chemical product was flowing through the plant, or that the trough lids were not properly sealed.

HSE found that Tata employees had been seen working on or near the troughs, with no visible warning signs in place. Previous prosecutions of Tata Chemicals Europe had also related to poor practices at Lostock Hall, and nearby Winnington Lane.

Appearing at Chester Crown Court, Tata Chemicals Europe pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at work etc. Act 1974. Tata were fined £1.125 million and ordered to pay £60,603.54 in costs.

HSE Inspector Matt Lea spoke following the ruling:

“This tragic death could have been preventable had Michael Densmore and his colleagues been managed under a robust permit to work system for working in a live chemical plant containing corrosive chemicals which had been heated almost to boiling point.

“Michael should not have been put in this unsafe working situation and should have been warned about the dangers of stepping over the troughs and that they were still in operation.

“Companies should learn the lessons from this incident if they have staff or contractors working in a similar environment and be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”

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