ICI falls foul of duty of care

ICI has become the first household name to be prosecuted for breaches of the "duty of care". The offences involved a consignment of drummed waste which caused explosions at a treatment plant and placed its operators at risk.

The incident occurred on 8 June 1992, and involved 26 drums of waste from a redundant ICI Chemicals and Polymers' electrode coating plant in Winnington, Cheshire, after they been delivered to a treatment plant operated by Colliers Industrial Waste in Trafford Park, Manchester.

ICI had declared on "special waste" consignment notes that the drums contained sodium hydroxide. However, several contained highly reactive sodium metal which caused explosions and a fire in the treatment plant. According to George Clapton, Chief Regulation Officer of the Greater Manchester Waste Regulation Authority (GMWRA), which brought the prosecution, it was "extremely fortunate that employees of the plant were not injured because they were put at very serious risk."

ICI was charged with two breaches of the duty of care under section 34 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. One was a failure to take reasonable measures as required by section 34(1)(c) to prevent any other person from contravening section 33(1)(c) of the Act - in this case the treatment of controlled waste in a manner likely to cause harm to human health. The second was a failure to furnish an adequate written description of the waste.

ICI pleaded not guilty to both charges before Northwich magistrates in August. But after a two-day hearing at which the court was told by the GMWRA that responsibility for safe disposal of the waste had been delegated to inadequately trained personnel, ICI was fined o1,500 for each offence, and ordered to pay costs of o5,890.

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