GEA Farm Technologies (UK) Ltd, which creates a variety of agricultural technologies including those for biofuel production, mistakenly mixed Intermediate Bulk Container (IBC) containing approximately 700 kg of concentrated sulphuric acid into a mixing vessel which already contained 1,600 litres of sodium hypochlorite solution on 12 June 2019. The reaction between these chemicals resulted in the release of toxic chlorine gas, which CCTV footage showed permeating the factory and the surrounding area.
Several workers were taken to hospital with breathing difficulties but none suffered long-term effects, according to the national regulator for workplace health and safety, Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
A HSE investigation revealed that the root of the incident was that a dedicated mixing plant had not been brought back into service after maintenance work, and the company had failed to introduce effective records management for the temporary manual system.
The company, which is based in Warminster, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and were fined £40,000 and ordered to pay costs of £22,000 at Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court on 4 October 2022.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Malcolm Whyatt, said: “In this case several workers were put at risk from a cloud of chlorine gas which drifted uncontrolled through their workplace.
“The company had previously designed their system to eliminate the possibility of human error, by reverting to a manual process they created a situation where mixing incompatible chemicals was possible. Chlorine can have severe health effects at very low levels, and they were fortunate that no-one was more seriously injured.”
GEA Farm Technologies (UK) Ltd. has been contacted for a comment.