HSE has been served with a Crown Censure – after its own inspectors concluded that the regulator had fallen ‘below the standard’ after an employee suffered burns in an experiment.
The incident happened on 4 October 2016 when a worker at HSE’s Laboratory in Buxton suffered serious burns while setting up an experimental hydrogen test rig.
In the statement published on HSE’s press website, it says that a design for a prototype hydrogen storage vessel was being tested.
While filling the vessel a connector failed and hydrogen escaped under pressure. The hydrogen ignited, injuring the HSE employee who was close to the vessel. The employee has since returned to work.
In April this year, HSE inspectors investigated the incident and served HSE with a Crown Improvement Notice. It required the regulator to provide them with a system of work for proof testing and leak testing an assembled hydrogen line and test tank to ensure, so far as is reasonable, the safety of employees and other people in the vicinity.
The investigation concluded that pressure testing went wrong because of the failure to "assess, plan, manage and control a well-known risk of death or serious injury."
Director of field operations, Samantha Peace said: “The Act is not intended to stop people from doing work that may be inherently dangerous, such as pressure testing. It is about ensuring that where work involves danger then this is reduced as much as it properly can be.
“In this case, HSE bear this responsibility as an employer. They fell below the required standard and as the failings exposed workers to the risk of death or serious injury, a Crown Censure is the right course of action. HSE has co-operated fully with the investigation and we are satisfied that action has been taken to put matters right.”
Richard Judge said: “As chief executive of HSE, and on behalf of my colleagues on the Management Board and the HSE Board, I very much regret this incident happened, and especially that our colleague was injured. On this occasion, we did not meet the standards we expect of others and that is deeply disappointing. HSE accepts the Crown Censure.”
He said HSE took early action to resolve the immediate issues identified by the regulatory and internal investigations.
By accepting the Crown Censure, HSE admitted to breaching its duty under Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 in that it exposed employees to risks to their health, safety and welfare.
As a Government body, HSE cannot face prosecution in the same way as private or commercial organisations and a Crown Censure is the maximum sanction a government body can receive. There is no financial penalty associated with Crown Censure, but once accepted is an official record of a failing to meet the standards set out in law.
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