Witness saw worker running around in flames

An employee sustained severe burns when he was engulfed by a fireball at a chemical plant in Wirral.

Bromborough-based SAFC Hitech Ltd was fined £120,000 over the incident, which occurred on 28 February last year and resulted in the 45-year-old worker, who has asked not to be named, receiving burns to his face, right arm and upper body.

The worker was taken to a specialist burns unit and induced into a coma for seven weeks. He was kept in hospital for almost three months, and still has extensive scars and difficulty moving. He is yet to return to work on account of his injuries.

Liverpool Crown Court heard on 29 April that the company had been manufacturing a chemical called trimethylindium, or TMI, which is used during the production of LEDs and in the semi-conductor industry. Waste from the purification process had been left on a bench to deactivate in an unsealed glass bottle, despite it being explosive if it is exposed to air, or water.

Soon after starting his shift, the worker entered the waste deactivation area and when waste in the bottle exploded, sending shards of glass across the yard. He has no memory of the incident but one of his colleagues reported seeing him running around in a ball of flames.

An HSE investigation found that the company had not undertaken a suitable risk assessment to manage the risks of handling a chemical that is spontaneously combustible on contact with air, or water.

The HSE also identified inadequacies in the company’s procedure for dealing with waste produced from the TMI purification process, while staff were neither supervised sufficiently nor monitored.

SAFC Hitech Ltd pleaded guilty to a breach of reg.5(1) of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002, in relation to its failure to undertake a suitable and sufficient risk assessment for dealing with the waste produced by the TMI purification process. It also admitted to a contravention of s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 for failing to ensure the safety of employees.

In addition to its fine, it was ordered to pay £13,328 towards the cost of the prosecution.