Virgin Active Health Club Prosecution

A Health-club operator failed to control risks of swimming-pool chemicals 20 June 2013 Several people at a gym in Edinburgh had to be taken to hospital after swimming-pool chemicals were wrongly mixed and produced toxic chlorine gas. Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard on 18 June that the incident occurred at Virgin Active Ltd’s health and fitness club in the Omni Centre on Leith Street in February 2010.

Polyaluminium chloride was wrongly mixed with sodium hypochlorite, a swimming-pool disinfectant, with the result that chlorine gas was produced. According to the City of Edinburgh’s Food Health and Safety Team, which investigated the incident, this risked serious harm to employees and members of the public using the facilities. The incident prompted a large-scale coordinated response by the emergency services and four members of the club’s staff were taken to hospital.

The council’s investigation showed that there were serious failures in the way the hazardous substances were managed and controlled. In court, Virgin Active Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching regs.6(1), 6(2), 6(4), 7(1) and 12(1) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 by failing to: identify the risks of polyaluminium chloride, sodium carbonate and calcium chloride; identify the risk of producing toxic chlorine gas from the inadvertent mixing of polyaluminium chloride and sodium hypochlorite, despite these risks being well documented; recognise that polyaluminium chloride, sodium carbonate and calcium chloride are hazardous substances that were not required for work activity or process, and should have been removed from the premises; label both a loading point connection (for pumping sodium hypochlorite from a tanker to a bulk tank) and bin used for sodium bisulphate with the necessary safety information.

The Sheriff fined the company £30,000 but reduced it to £20,000 in recognition of its guilty plea. No costs are awarded in Scotland. In a statement after sentencing, Virgin Active said: “[This incident] occurred in the club’s plant room – an area only accessible to staff – and not in the swimming pool. After the incident, four members of staff were taken to hospital as a precautionary measure, none of whom required treatment. “Nevertheless, we did not meet the high safety standards that we set ourselves and, while this was a one-off incident, we have taken measures to ensure that it never happens again.”

An Environment convener, said: “These failings are totally unacceptable and it is only fair that the fine imposed reflects the severity of the circumstances. “It is vital that all leisure companies fulfil their responsibilities to provide a safe environment for patrons and staff. We will not hesitate to act when our investigations show that this is not the case”