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News added on 05.03.2021

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Risk assessment

Life changing injuries resulted from scalding

An employee at a chemical manufacturing plant was scalded with boiling water while carrying out a cleaning operation. How could his employer have prevented this life-changing accident?

The cleaning operation was being carried out at Calachem Ltd’s production plant in Grangemouth, Scotland. It involved filling a chemical powder charging chute with water, which was then brought to the boil by immersing a steam hose in it. The water in the chute was boiled overnight.

The next morning, the employee tried to empty the boiling water from the charge chute. He opened a valve, expecting the water to drain down into the reaction vessel below. However, the vessel had been pressurised with nitrogen gas. When the valve was opened, the pressure in the vessel was released and the scalding water erupted back up and out of the chute, severely scalding the employee and leaving him permanently disfigured.

The Health and Safety Executive’s investigation found that a relatively safe cleaning process of washing down the charge chute with cold water into the vessel below had evolved and changed over time to the practice of boiling the water overnight in the charge chute, while simultaneously pressurising the reaction vessel below as part of a recirculating cleaning cycle.

These incremental changes to the cleaning process had not triggered a review of the company’s risk assessment, so the danger of pressurising the vessel below a chute of boiling water was not recognised. As a result, no control measures were put in place to remove this danger.

Risk assessments are “live” documents. They must be reviewed regularly and whenever a change occurs that may impact on them. If the risk assessment reveals that the risks to employees and other have changed, the control measures must be adjusted accordingly.

Since the incident, the company has stopped filling the powder charge chute with boiling water and the processes to clean down the plant have been risk assessed to introduce new safer procedures.

Calachem Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching its duty under s.2 Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all its employees. It was fined £560,000.

The employer had risk assessed the cleaning process originally, but the risk assessment had not been reviewed as practice changed over time. Therefore, the control measures did not reflect the severity of the risks faced by employees carrying out the cleaning operation.

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