Spouting Sulfuric Acid Injuries Bring $226K Penalty

Three workers suffered acid burns in December 2011 when corroded, 50-year-old pipes burst at a Southampton chemical plant, a British court was told Nov. 29.

Polimeri Europa UK Ltd has been ordered to pay $226,00 in fines and costs in connection with three workers' injuries on Dec. 13, 2011, by a British court. The company was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive, which investigated after the workers were hurt when 50-year-old pipes burst at a Southampton chemical plant, sending a jet of sulfuric acid 60 feet into the air, according to HSE.

The workers were employed by a contractor at the plant. Fortunately, emergency showers were used and first aid treatment on site prevented them from being seriously injured, and all three returned to work, the agency reported.

The pipework was used to carry 96 percent sulfuric acid; the men were working on an unrelated task in the roadway near where the break occurred. The investigation found Polimeri, part of one of Europe's largest chemical companies, Versalis, had a plan to inspect its pipework systems in 2008, "but initial target dates had been missed. Priority was being given to pipework carrying other hazardous substances, which were considered a greater risk to people on and off site."

"HSE found the company had failed to make sure its pipework – the company has around 9,250 meters of it – was in a safe condition and corrosion had been allowed to take hold of the section that carried the acid," according to the agency.

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