An oil storage company has been fined after contractors cut into a sealed pipe causing an explosion inside a tank.
Liverpool Crown Court heard that on 19 January 2015, contractors of ESL Fuels Ltd cut into a sealed pipe using a grinder. The pipe, which was attached to a tank, was being used as part of a waste oil recovery process at their North Blend Tank Farm. Flammable gases within the pipe ignited, resulting in an explosion within the tank and the tank lid and vent pipe being partially detached and projected over a raised walkway.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the company was having difficulty with the waste oil recovery process which was foaming out of the vessel and filling its bund. The company’s tests were inadequate and failed to identify the cause of the problem which was generating flammable carbon monoxide gas. A decision was taken to connect the vessel by pipework to an emergency relief dump tank to prevent a potential catastrophic overpressure in the tank but the safety implications of this modification and its design were not risk assessed. HSE also found systemic failings with the company’s management of contractors and an inadequate Permit to Work system, with the contractors being unaware that the tank and pipework were in use and may contain flammable gas, when carrying out hot work that was a source of ignition.
ESL Fuels Ltd, based at the Stanlow Oil Terminal near Ellesmere Port, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) and Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and has been fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £17,000.
Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Matthew Lea said: “Even though nobody was injured this incident could have been prevented if the problems with the process and the subsequent design modification had been properly investigated, risk assessed and dealt with, and if the work of the contractors had been adequately controlled.
“The contractors were unaware that they were working on live plant in the North Blend Tank Farm nor how it could impact on their safety.
“HSE has brought this prosecution because failures took place that could have resulted in death or serious injury and we believe every person should be healthy and safe at work.”
Notes to Editors:
- The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It helps Great Britain work well by applying a broad range of regulatory interventions and scientific expertise, to prevent 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. hse.gov.uk
- More about the legislation referred to in this case can be found at: legislation.gov.uk/ 
- HSE news releases are available at http://press.hse.gov.uk