Journalist, Cherry Park

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Cherry Park is an experienced freelance journalist and reporter who specializes in features, news, and news analysis, in print and online. She has written extensively in the areas of health and safety, fire safety, employment, HR, recruitment, rewards, pay and benefits, market research, environment, and metallurgy, and she also conducts research.
February 5, 2013

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Chemical Company Fined After Risking Employees’ Lives

A long list of fire safety legislation breaches has led to a GB pound 10,500 fine for a Greater Manchester chemical manufacturing firm.

Atom Scientific pled guilty to seven breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 for putting the lives of its workers at risk at its chemical manufacturing and biological testing premises in Audenshaw.

Tameside magistrates heard on January 23 that, in April 2012, a fire protection officer from Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) inspected the firm’s premises, a large two-story industrial unit with a dispatch and packing warehouse on the ground floor and offices and laboratories on the floor above. He discovered the following contraventions:

  • Large quantities of flammable, hazardous, and potentially explosive toxic chemicals were in the ground floor warehouse.
  • There was only a single staircase for accessing upper offices and laboratories that was designed to be a fire escape route.
  • Broken self-closing devices on fire doors between the warehouse and the escape corridor would not have stopped smoke, heat, and fire breaking out onto the stairs and escape corridor
  • Chemicals were stored on the escape route, which could have caused a fire to spread rapidly.
  • The fire exit door had been locked from the inside since January 2011, when the firm moved into the premises.
  • The fire exit door was blocked with a closed roller shutter on the outside, so that the only way out of the building for anyone on the upper floor was through the warehouse, the most likely source of a fire.
  • Workers would have needed to travel 40 meters to get out of the building in the event of a fire, by which time it would have filled with smoke.
  • The fire alarm in the building had not worked since January 2011, so that those working upstairs would have been unaware of any fire breaking out below.
  • Staff had no formal training about what to do if a fire occurred or how to evacuate the premises safely.

For GMFRS, prosecutor Warren Spencer said:

    The fire service was concerned about the safety of people on the first floor. If a fire broke out in the warehouse, smoke, flames and heat would trap people upstairs and their only way out would be through the fire. The company had clearly not given any thought to a fire occurring in the warehouse. It was aware the fire alarm had not been operative since January 2011 but did nothing to rectify it.

The company said in mitigation the door was already locked when the company took the lease of the premises. Storage space was at a premium and the firm wrongly thought it could keep the door locked and use the corridor for extra storage.

The company has since taken steps to remedy the situation.

The court heard that Atom Scientific was also fined at North Essex Magistrates’ Court in June 2012 for failing to comply with regulations regarding the carriage of dangerous goods on an aircraft.

Chair of the bench Maria Bennett said she was “appalled” at the extent of the company’s breaches of the regulations. “These are difficult times, but products, premises and machinery can be replaced – human life cannot,” she said.

Peter O’Reilly, director of protection and prevention services at GMFRS, added: “There is no excuse for the risks this company took with the safety of their employees. This fine should be a warning to businesses to think about the consequences of a fire and make sure their workers are safe.”

Atom Scientific was also ordered to pay the GMFRS GB pound 3,353 in costs.

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Tony Dobson
Tony Dobson
February 5, 2013 5:08 am

A paultry fine for endangering their workers and also people living close by, it should have been more!! This is close to home for me, I’m only a couple of miles away!

SunitaT
SunitaT
March 2, 2013 6:27 am
Reply to  Tony Dobson

A paultry fine for endangering their workers and also people living close by, it should have been more!!
, I agree with you. I think penalty amount should be huge so that companies dont commit such mistakes in future. Its sad that companies ignore basic things like keeping the fire exit door open.

SunitaT
SunitaT
March 2, 2013 6:37 am

Staff had no formal training about what to do if a fire occurred or how to evacuate the premises safely.
@Cherry, I am surprised to know that staff had no formal training in fire fighting. In our company mock fire-drills are held annually to train the employees about fire-fighting. I think all the companies should implement such measures which will help them minimize the damage caused by fire.

batye
batye
March 7, 2013 5:27 pm
Reply to  Tony Dobson

I’m sorry to hear it… but problem like this is everywhere… few years ago in Toronto, Ontario Canada… Gas Plant inside the city limits have 10 alarms fire… as un-certified employee made small error… one single spark… Co. need to certify they employees in fire safety… properly… as fire do not care about lips service…