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Firms face unlimited fines over Crewe chemical fire

Article from Crewe Chronicle July 27 2011 . 

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TWO companies face unlimited fines after their failings led to an explosion and catastrophic chemical fire at the Gateway Industrial Estate in Crewe in 2007.√جª¬ø


By Ellie Cullen


Crewe-based Greenway Environmental Ltd and Preston-based Pakawaste Ltd appeared at Chester Crown Court on Monday after being prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive.

Greenway admitted putting employees at risk and Pakawaste admitted to putting non-employees at risk.

Although no-one was killed or injured in the huge blaze on June 4, 2007, the flames engulfed 10,000 sq m and posed a huge risk to neighbouring offices and warehouses.

More than 100 firefighters tackled the fire for several hours, the force of the blaze knocking some to the floor.

Prosecutor Nigel Lawrence said it was ‘extremely fortunate’ no-one was seriously hurt.

The fire centred on a shredding unit used by Greenway to recycle old aerosols, which had been designed, manufactured and supplied by Pakawaste.

Although the exact cause of the fire is unclear, the build-up of extremely flammable liquid as the aerosol cans were crushed by the shredder posed a huge risk and contributed to the violent and fast-spreading nature of the fire, with cans catapulted into the air.

Serious flaws in the design of the shredder were discovered, as the HSE investigation found Pakawaste had not designed the machine to safely shred the aerosols containing flammable liquids and gases.

Greenway admitted it was  also culpable for failing to carry out a risk assessment of the new unit before use, and the investigation revealed the shredder should have been operated well away from where flammable substances were being stored.

Mr Lawrence said: “Pakawaste had not produced a machine for shredding aerosols before, and it treated this as a specialist project.

“After the installation, Greenway experienced problems to do with the ventilation and Pakawaste had to attend on a number of occasions.”

Some dispute still remains between the two companies, as Pakawaste claims it did not know the quantities of aerosols Greenway would be recycling with the unit before it was designed.

But it accepted once it was  made aware of the problems it should have made sure it was properly rectified.

Greenway added a second ventilation fan to the shredder, which may have sparked the blast.

Jeremy Barnett, defending Greenway Ltd,  said: “The fire had a substantial effect on the business, leading to the closure of the premises for eight months.

“But the company took steps to ensure employees were kept in their jobs, with 98 out of 106 staying on. It lost a considerable amount of money.

“Greenway was entitled to rely on Pakawaste as a specialist supplier of this type of machine – as far as it was concerned, it went to the best. We say in terms of culpability, the bulk of it falls on Pakawaste.”

In consultation with the HSE, Greenway took steps straight away to establish a safe system.

Mark Turner, defending Pakawaste Ltd, said: “We accept a risk assessment should have been undertaken, and the reason we didn’t was not to cut corners. It was a mistake, a bad mistake but it was a mistake. There was a breakdown of communication.”

He added that Pakawaste was very vulnerable, with its 45 remaining employees at one stage working just three days a week.

Both companies face huge fines – thought to be in the region of six figures – although the prosecution costs could end up eclipsing the actual fine.

The firms’ representatives return to Chester Crown Court tomorrow for sentencing.

Gill Chambers, the investigating inspector at HSE, said: “This was a serious incident that caused major disruption in Crewe and had the potential for workers and the public to be badly injured.

“There was obviously a fault in Pakawaste’s design and manufacturing process which resulted in the shredding unit exploding.

“Greenway should also have had better procedures and arrangements in place to protect its workers and prevent the fire from spreading.

“It’s extremely important for companies working with potentially dangerous materials to identify the hazards and make a proper assessment of the risks.

“Machinery has to be fit for purpose and there must be safe working practices for dealing with flammable substances.”

Originally posted 2011-07-28 00:00:00.

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