Firm in court after major petrol escape at Staffordshire fuel site

A company which distributes fuel across a national network of pipelines has been fined after 35,000 litres of unleaded petrol erupted from pipework due to a joint failure.

The fuel, which escaped under high pressure and rained down on the site, owned by British Pipeline Agency Ltd near Tamworth, could have resulted in a major fire and possible explosion.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident and prosecuted the company on Friday (26 September) for safety breaches at Warwick Crown Court.

The leak at the Kingsbury fuel terminal operated by BPA led to a significant clean-up operation, including the specialist decontamination of land.

The court was told BPA co-ordinates the movement of fuel through underground high pressure pipelines to its customers. All types of petroleum based fuel are delivered through one of several pipelines which originate from oil refineries and fuel storage terminals around the country.

At midnight on 20 October 2010 the company started to pump petrol from the pipeline into a large storage tank on a neighbouring fuel storage site.  About an hour and a half later alarms sounded and operatives who went to investigate found a fountain of fuel erupting from an overground section of pipe.

A secondary line feeding into the main pipework had broken loose and enough fuel to fill a road tanker was escaping under pressure, spraying into the air and running across the site.

HSE found that the pipework involved had been reconfigured and replaced as part of a major engineering project finished a week before. However, before being put to use the joints and fittings were not properly commissioned and tested.

British Pipeline Agency Ltd, of Alexandra Road, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, was fined £30,000 with costs of £58,606 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing HSE inspector Alex Nayar said:

“This was a very serious incident with the potential to be extremely dangerous. It was also one that could have been avoided very simply.

“When plant is changed or modified it has to be tested and commissioned before being put into operation. That did not happen. If done properly it could have identified the fault.

“The leak posed two major hazards, a fire or a vapour cloud explosion. It is extremely fortunate that neither happened in this case as the outcome could have been much worse.”

Notes to Editors

1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace   health and safety. It aims to reduce 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.

2. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.

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