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News added on 06.01.2020

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Fire safety

Unsafe chemical work led to warehouse destruction

A fire at an aerosol manufacturing company destroyed two warehouses and an external storage area. How did the fire start and why was it able to spread so easily?

An employee of LMA Services Ltd was decanting heptane from a bulk storage container into four-litre metal cans in one of the company’s warehouses. He dropped the can he was filling, leading to an explosion and fire that spread quickly. Fortunately, the worker was unharmed, but the fire destroyed the warehouse, as well as an adjacent warehouse and external storage area connecting the two.

The HSE's investigation found that the process of decanting the heptane, a highly flammable liquid, involved placing a bulk container of it onto racking at a height of about 1.5m. A table was then positioned beneath it and a small electrical weighing scale placed on the table. Metal cans were put on the scale while an employee filled the cans by manually operating a tap on the bulk container.

A flammable vapour was created, which came into contact with an ignition source and caused the explosion and fire. The HSE concluded that the ignition source was likely to be a spark from the electrical weighing scales. The company should have identified the likelihood of a flammable vapour building up during this process and made sure that potential ignition sources were eliminated.

LMA Services Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching its duty under regulation 6(3) Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 to control the risks of a flammable substance being released and to mitigate the effects of a fire or explosion. It was fined £14,000 and ordered to pay over £2,370 in costs.

A flammable vapour was created when a worker dropped a can containing a highly flammable liquid, which ignited on contact with a spark from some electrical scales. This sort of equipment should not have been used in an area where a flammable vapour was likely to occur. The fire spread rapidly because of the presence of more flammable substances and a lack of fire mitigation measures.

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