A South Tyneside car parts manufacturer has been fined £1.6million after a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak and an explosion occurred at the same plant within a year.
Five people fell seriously ill at Faltec Europe’s factory following the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, Newcastle Crown Court heard last week.
Between October 2014 and June 2015, two employees, two agency workers and a local resident contracted Legionnaires Disease, a serious lung infection.
HSE found the illness was caused by Faltec’s failure to effectively manage its water cooling systems at the factory, causing the legionella bacteria in the water supply to grow to potentially lethal levels.
Faltec Europe Limited of Didcot Way, Boldon in Tyne and Wear pleaded guilty to breaches of Section 2 (1) and 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) and was fined £800,000.
The same court heard how on 16 October 2015, an operator attempted to recover a part that came off production rollers at the plant in Boldon.
There is an explosive atmosphere within the machine during normal production. The part he was retrieving came into contact with an electrostatic grid, which created a spark and caused a dust explosion.
The 19-year-old man suffered first degree burns to his face and arms. HSE found that adequate measures were not put in place to protect operators from explosion risks, this was despite previous explosions having occurred.
In relation to the explosion, the company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) of HSWA and was fined £800,000. The company was also ordered to pay costs of £75,159.73 and a victim surcharge of £120.
Investigating HSE inspectors Fiona McGarry and Michael Kingston, who were supported in their investigations by Public Health England and South Tyneside Council, said: “The explosion and outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at the Faltec factory had a major impact on the six people affected, with some suffering long-term ill-health as a result. In addition, the incidents raised concern amongst other employees and the local community.
“Legionnaires’ disease is a relatively uncommon, but potentially fatal form of pneumonia. When water systems are not properly controlled and maintained there is a risk of exposing both employees and the wider community to Legionella bacteria. Following the outbreak, and HSE enforcement, improved control measures have now been implemented by the company to better manage the Legionella risks at the site."
“Furthermore, where dangerous substances create a fire and explosion risk, there needs to be adequate control measures in place to prevent an explosion or mitigate the consequences. The risks should have been assessed before the machine was put into use and the previous incidents should have resulted in a comprehensive review by a competent person. Operators need to be trained on the fire and explosion risks and understand the required controls," they added.
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