Hull Crown Court heard that in the early hours of the 5 March 2010, at the Grimsby plant of Cristal Pigment UK Limited (formerly Millennium Inorganic Chemicals), there was a build-up of Titanium Tetrachloride within a vessel. The chemical came into contact with water creating a violent reaction, which ruptured the vessel. The liquid came into contact with the air creating a large toxic vapour cloud.
The vessel, which is normally connected to the chemical production plant, was being replaced. The old vessel was removed and stored, for around three-years, with a number of tonnes of residual Titanium Tetrachloride.
The Health and Safety Executive’s investigation found that the company made the decision to clean the vessel. The company poorly managed the design and installation of fabricated plates to seal the vessel before carrying out the cleaning process. The plates were incompatible, incorrectly designed and used inappropriate sealants that could not contain the gas created during the procedure, releasing a toxic vapour cloud.
Cristal Pigment UK Ltd of Stallingborough pleaded guilty to the following charges: Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, for the 2010 incident and also Regulation 4 of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 for the 2011 incident. The company was fined £1.8mil and £600,000 for charges associated with the incident on 5 March 2010 and fined £600,000 for the charge associated with the incident on 27 July 2011 with costs of £37,868.00.
After the hearing, HSE inspector Brian Fotheringham commented:
“The incident of 5 March 2010 caused the death of one employee and life changing injuries to another. Had the wind been blowing in the opposite direction it could also have caused a local disaster. However, the company still did not learn lessons from the 2010 incident and had another significant release of the same toxic gas just over a year later.
“This case must act as a reminder to the industry that there can be no room for complacency when dealing with such dangerous chemicals”.