Firms ordered to pay £120,000 after gas leak
Published on Thursday 18th October 2012
The operator of a fitness centre in Cannock and one of its contractors have been ordered to pay £120,000 after a chlorine gas leak saw nine people taken to hospital, including four children.
Nuffield Health Wellbeing Limited (operators of Nuffield Health Fitness and Wellbeing Centre in East Cannock Road, Cannock) and Honeywell Control Systems Limited (the maintenance contractor for the pool plant) were prosecuted by Cannock Chase Council after a serious release of chlorine gas on 7th March 2009.
Twenty members of the public were affected and nine went to hospital with respiratory problems, including four children who were having a swimming lesson at the time. Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service were called to the site and had to wear breathing apparatus to enter the pool plant room and make it safe.
Both companies pleaded guilty at Stafford Magistrates' Court on Wednesday 17th October to three offences under health and safety law: that they failed to ensure the health and safety of their employees; they failed to ensure the health and safety of visitors; and failed to make appropriate arrangements for the planning, control and monitoring of safety measures.
Both Nuffield and Honeywell pleaded guilty to all three charges and were each fined a total of £45,000. They were both ordered to pay £14,754.80 in costs, as well as a £15 victim surcharge, making a total of £59,769.80 each, payable immediately.
The chlorine gas leak occurred after sodium hypochlorite/chlorine alkali was mistakenly mixed with sodium bisulphate acid by an engineer working for Honeywell.
Magistrates were told that the escape of chlorine gas presented a significant risk to the health of employees and the public, particularly the children using the pool. It was only the prompt action taken by Nuffield staff that reduced the seriousness of the effects.
Magistrates agreed with the Council that training for the contractor's engineer was not adequate or up to date, that the practices of both Nuffield and Honeywell fell well short of the required standard and that both companies failed in their duty to ensure that employees and members of the public were not put at risk.
An investigation by Cannock Chase Council's Environmental Health department revealed that both companies had failed to properly consider and control the risks involved in the storage and use of highly dangerous chemicals. A number of unsafe practices were identified: mixing bags of alkali and acid in the same room, poor storage arrangements, poor housekeeping, absence of safe systems of work and control measures at the health centre and out-of-date and inadequate training for the Honeywell employee.
Cllr Muriel Davis, Cannock Chase Council Health and Wellbeing Leader, said: "This incident could have been so much worse. If it wasn't for the prompt action of Nuffield staff, we could have been looking at long-term health consequences for those involved, particularly the children. All companies have a legal duty to ensure the health and safety of both their employees and members of the public. In this case, Nuffield and Honeywell - both of them large organisations - fell well below the standards expected.
"We are pleased that the magistrates agreed with us and recognised these were serious health and safety offences. This was a lengthy and complex investigation which demonstrates the Council's commitment to protecting employee and public safety.
"Whilst we always prefer to give advice and support to businesses, we will not hesitate to use our enforcement powers to deal with serious incidents. In light of this case, I would urge all employers in the District to review their health and safety arrangements to ensure they are fit for purpose. Any business requiring advice should call Environmental Health Business Support on 01543 464689."
Top: Nuffield Health Fitness and Wellbeing in Cannock
Above: The pool plant room shortly after the chlorine gas leak in March 2009