Firm fined £1 million after man dies in explosion

A chemical firm has been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and fined £1 million after a man died in an explosion at its site.

The HSE said they hoped the case would help “communicate important safety messages” to the industry after Briar Chemicals Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching the COMAH Regulations 2015.

The company, based in Norwich, appeared at Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court after a “complex and highly technical” three-year investigation by the HSE revealed that they failed to take all necessary measures to prevent the fatal explosion.

In addition to their significant fine, Briar Chemicals Ltd were also ordered to pay prosecution costs of £10,967.20.

Health and safety failings

The court heard how, on 27th July 2018, maintenance contractor, Rob Cranston, was carrying out repair work on a mixing vessel during a planned period of shutdown maintenance.

It is believed that his welding torch or grinder accidentally ignited flammable Toluene vapour inside the vessel. This should not have been present when the maintenance work commenced.

Mr Cranston, aged 46, was killed in the blast. His son Owen, aged 22, was working alongside him at the time.

The subsequent investigation by Britain’s health and safety watchdog found that a quantity of Toluene residue had been left inside the vessel after shutdown cleaning took place at the beginning of June 2018. Two damaged valves situated above the vessel in the Toluene supply pipe were also found to be leaking.

The HSE learned that operatives had been instructed to transfer a large quantity of Toluene from one storage tank to another via this pipe, which allowed additional flammable liquid to leak into the vessel. It was supposed to be empty and clean.

‘Horrendous’ and ‘complex’ case

In a Victim Impact Statement read out in court, Mr Cranston’s widow, Claire said his loss had “been horrendous for both our sons, particularly Owen having to deal with actually being there at the time.”

She added: “Our lives changed forever that day. We will never forget him and are only left wondering what the future would have held for us all together. We were still young enough to have had years of happiness ahead. He will miss seeing our sons’ lives develop and grandchildren in years to come.

Meanwhile, HSE Inspector Frances Bailey, who led the investigation into the incident, said:

“This was a complex and highly technical investigation, due to the chemical hazards on site and the number of underlying issues which combined to cause the explosion. HSE hope that this case helps to communicate important safety messages to wider industry so that other fires and explosions are prevented in future.

“Any company handling or storing flammables should consider the potential risk of fire and explosion and ensure they have robust procedures in place to minimise and control risk at all times, including during planned maintenance work.”

Vital health and safety support and training

First Response Training (FRT) is a leading, national training provider.

They deliver over 7,000 courses each year in the fields of health and safety, first aid, fire safety, food hygiene, mental health, health and social care and other special focus topics.

Their diverse portfolio includes training awards in Handling Hazardous SubstancesHealth and Safety, Lone Working, Risk Assessment, Manual HandlingAccident and Incident Investigation and Managing and Supervising Safety, among many others.

FRT is also approved to deliver world-renowned IOSH-accredited and certificated training courses such as IOSH Working Safely, IOSH Supervising Safely and IOSH Managing Safely.

A trainer from FRT explains: “This is a truly tragic case which highlights exactly why it’s so vitally important that employers have a good understanding of health and safety law and that health and safety at work is well managed, with suitable risk assessments, control measures, policies and procedures in place.”

For more information on the training that FRT can provide, please call them today on freephone 0800 310 2300 or send an e-mail to

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