£800,000 fine for chemical firm after South Shields worker suffers horrific, life-changing injuries

A North East chemical firm has been ordered to pay more than £800,000 after admiting reposnbility for a fire which left a South Shields employee with life-changing injuries.

The man spent eight days in intensive care on life support after the explosion at International Paint Limited’s Gateshead plant.

He has been left with all-over body scarring, partial blindness to one eye, hearing damage, and damage to a knee and shoulder and was off work for 16 months.

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Newcastle Magistrates Court heard that the 49-year-old worker was making paint in a large mixing vessel, which involved the use of flammable liquids.

As he was emptying resin pellets from a large bulk bag into the vessel, an electrostatic spark was generated, igniting flammable vapour within the vessel and causing a large explosion.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified that the company failed to put sufficient measures in place to control the risk, including a failure to use a correctly working extraction system to remove the flammable vapours and effective electrical earthing of the bulk bag to prevent the build-up of electrostatic charge that led to the static spark discharging.

The firm admitted breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £800,000 with £14,032 costs.

HSE inspector Paul Wilson said: “This incident should serve as an important reminder to industry that fire and explosion can have devastating consequences.

The injured man was working at International Paint Ltd in Gateshead

“It is critical that employers fully assess the risk of fire and explosion including the risk from static discharges and put the necessary control measures in place.”

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“We are extremely sorry”

A company statement said the firm had addressed the issue which caused the fire and the injured employee was back at the site.

“International Paint Limited this week entered a guilty plea in relation to a workplace accident which took place on August 4, 2020, at our manufacturing site in Felling, Gateshead,” it said.

“Our first thoughts are with our colleague affected and we deeply regret the injury caused by this incident. Since the incident, we have been supporting our colleague through our onsite occupational health provision and despite the injuries he has suffered, we are pleased to say that he has now returned to work.

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“The health and safety of everyone at work is our absolute priority and we appreciate the impact this incident will have had on all our colleagues across the site.

"Although we had extensive safety systems in place to address the risks arising from our manufacturing process, they were inadequate to prevent this incident, and for that we are extremely sorry.

"We immediately recognised our responsibility and we pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.

“We take this matter extremely seriously - it is the first health and safety prosecution in the history of the company, dating back to our formation in 1899.

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"Since the incident, we have worked with the Health and Safety Executive and our own health and safety leadership team to conduct a full review of what, and how it happened. We updated our health and safety processes, procedures and invested significantly in new equipment.

“The company accepts the fine, which will be paid to the Treasury within three months.”