During the commissioning and operation of a new potato processing line, employees at a food manufacturing company in Holbeach, Lincolnshire, were exposed to sulphur dioxide (SO2) gas due to inadequate design and unsafe work processes.
AH Worth Ltd (previously QV Foods Ltd) purchased a new potato processing plant in 2018, according to Lincoln Magistrates’ Court. To keep the potatoes from browning, the purchased line dipped them in a chemical called Microsoak. The work on the acquisition, installation and commissioning were not well thought out. The Microsoak emitted sulphur dioxide gas during commissioning, which impacted pack-house personnel. In an effort to solve the problem, the corporation made changes to the line, but this caused the nozzles to clog, releasing more sulphur dioxide continuously. On June 11, 2018, a maintenance engineer was seriously exposed to sulphur dioxide while attempting to unclog the nozzles. Other workers in the area were also affected by the evacuation of the factory. Because of the effects of the gas on their lungs, the maintenance engineer and another employee were unable to return to work.
The job should have been carefully planned, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Between QV Foods Ltd and the contractors engaged, there should have been proper information flow. The commissioning process should have been well-thought-out. They should have paused and thoroughly analysed the remedies when the difficulties arose before proceeding with the line modification. Maintenance employees and others working on the line should have had accurate information, education, and training concerning the new line and what they should do. Unblocking the nozzles should have been done safely, with employees wearing appropriate personal protective equipment.
AH Worth Ltd of Manor Farm Holbeach Hurn, Spalding, pleaded guilty to violating Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 by failing to guarantee the health and safety of its employees at work to the extent that it was reasonably possible. The firm was fined £300,000 and forced to pay £9924.90 in costs, plus a £170 victim surcharge.
“This was a tragic and entirely avoidable tragedy, caused by the company’s inability to plan for the introduction of new plant and equipment properly,” HSE inspector Mr Martin Giles said during the hearing. It made changes to the new facility without sufficient thinking or planning, failed to adopt safe work systems, and failed to respond appropriately when things went wrong.”