Companies fined after man killed by toxic gas

Crisp-maker Walkers Snack Foods Ltd and chemical distributor Omnichem Ltd have been fined a total of £350,000 after a worker was killed by a cloud of toxic gas.

John Marriott, 59, was working for Omnichem on 19 July 2006 when he was seriously affected by green chlorine dioxide fumes. The HSE, which brought the prosecution, told Leicester Crown Court that Mr Marriott was driving a lorry containing four steel tanks, two with Sodium Chlorite and two containing Hydrochloric Acid, to Walkers’ site in Leycroft Road, Beaumont Leys, in Leicester.

Both chemicals are used in Walkers’ starch reclamation unit, which turns waste starch into food-grade material used to make snack foods. Mr Marriott inadvertently mixed up the hoses on the tanks while transferring the two chemicals from the lorry, causing them to produce green fumes of chlorine dioxide.

When he realised his error, Mr Marriott stopped the transfer and started to hose the area down, but he was already starting to be affected by the toxic gas.

Mr Marriott and a Walkers’ employee who tried to help, were both taken to Leicester Royal Infirmary. The Walkers’ employee was in hospital for 30 hours, with breathing difficulties, but later recovered. Mr Marriott’s condition gradually deteriorated, and he died from the effects of the gas a month later on 17 August 2006.

Walkers Snack Foods Ltd, of Arlington Business Park, Theale, Reading, Berkshire, pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined £200,000. It was also ordered to pay costs of £38,971.

Omnichem Ltd, of Asfordby Business Park, Melton Mowbray, admitted the same charges and was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay £29,229 costs.

HSE inspector Sue Thompson said: “This incident was entirely preventable. Basic risk assessments and clear procedures could have avoided Mr Marriott’s tragic death but as it was there were a catalogue of serious failings.

“Employees who had tried to help Mr Marriott did not know the type of operation that was being carried out, nor the nature of the gas being released. They had no appropriate training and they had no idea what to do.

“It took about an hour after the appearance of the gas cloud for Walkers to realise the gravity of matters, and to get employees out of the area. Walkers had no planned evacuation procedure for a chemical emergency at this location, which was a major failing.

“There were insufficient written procedures for deliveries of chemicals and for the receipt of chemicals, and the tanks were also insufficiently labelled.”

In a statement, Walkers said it had been “saddened and shocked” by Mr Marriott’s death.

It said: “Walkers Snack Foods Limited is committed to ensuring the health and safety for all our employees, customers and visitors, and prompt remedial steps were taken immediately after this incident to ensure this does not happen on one of our sites ever again.”