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Recycling firm fined after explosion

22 March 2018

A SUSSEX-based recycling company has been fined following an explosion and fire at their site in Surrey which left a worker in an induced coma.

Portsmouth Crown Court heard how a massive explosion occurred at Ereco EMEA Corporation Ltd site on 3 October 2011 at Hobbs Industrial Estate, Lingfield, Surrey, following the storage of print toner on site. Eight people were injured as a result of the explosion, five seriously. A 30-year-old worker was placed in an induced coma and remained in hospital for 15 weeks.

A joint investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) found that Ereco failed to ensure there was a safe system of work in place to reduce the risk of dangerous substances; this could have been completed through carrying out suitable fire risks assessments and following guidelines in Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002.

The investigation also found that Paramount Waste Extraction Ltd, the company who designed the machinery that was used to shred and process the toner cartridges, did not consider the likely misuse of the machine by overloading the processing of toner with more than a residual amount of toner powder left inside; it was found they relied on generic data to determine whether an explosive atmosphere may arise.

Ereco EMEA Corporation Ltd of Lewes Road, Forest Row, East Sussex pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company also pleaded guilty to an offence under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 of failing to take general fire precautions. A sentencing hearing took place at Portsmouth Crown Court in December 2017 and sentence was handed down this month. Ereco EMEA Corporation Ltd was fined £30,000, £15,000 for each offence. The firm was also ordered to pay costs of £30,000.

Paramount Waste Extraction Ltd of Redehall Road, Smallfield, Surrey pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 (1) of the Healthy and Safety at Work Act 1974. The company has been fined £16,000 as well as being ordered to pay £16,000 towards court costs.

Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Michelle Canning said: “All the employees involved in this incident are extremely lucky this explosion didn’t prove fatal.

“Ereco failed to take the required precautions before starting a process of work with dangerous substances and   this failure resulted in this serious, life threatening explosion.”

“Both designers and suppliers must ensure that the risks of using their equipment are eliminated through safe design, and this should include taking into account foreseeable misuse.”

Following the sentencing, Denise Turner-Stewart, Surrey County Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities, said: “Despite warnings, Ereco failed to deal with the risk of fire at its plant leading to a catastrophic explosion of flammable toner powder. Surrey Fire and Rescue Service works with employers to help them comply with fire safety laws but where a lax approach puts people at risk won’t hesitate to take enforcement and legal action.”