A company that “walked away” after two of its workers suffered significant burn injuries has been fined £150,000.
The injured men were sprayed with sodium hydrochloride while carrying out pipe cleaning work, due to health and safety failures by their firm.
One of the workers suffered life threatening burns to his back, buttocks, arms, leg, neck and the side of his face.
His injuries were so severe he had to be resuscitated on admission to hospital and the consequences of his ordeal has “devastated” his life.
The second injured man suffered burns to his head, neck, back and behind one ear.
The workers were employed by PSL Worldwide Projects Ltd, based in Washington.
After the accident the firm were perused by the Health and Safety Executive.
The company, now in liquidation, initially denied health and safety breaches but then withdrew from the court process and was found guilty after a trial in the absence of any of its representatives.
Prosecutor James Kemp told Newcastle Crown Court: “The company has not engaged in this process whatsoever.”
Mr Kemp said any compensation for the injured men would now be dealt with by the firm’s insurers.
Judge Deborah Sherwin said “the whole thing must have been traumatic and upsetting for the injured men” and that the conduct of the business representatives since the accident was “regrettable”.
The judge said: “It seems very regrettable, in a case where people are seriously injured, that the corporate beings have effectively walked away.”
Judge Sherwin fined the firm £150,000.
She added: “It is important a message is sent out as to the importance of health and safety at work.”
The judge made no order for costs due to the firm’s status of liquidation.
The court heard the men were burned when they were sprayed with sodium hydrochloride during chemical cleaning of a pipework system on 31 July 2014.
The men were working at a Hyclone UK Ltd site, in Cramlington.
The workers were using Sodium Hydroxide granules to clean a pipe system when a reaction occurred between the chemicals and water in the system that caused the liquid to heat up building up pressure in the hose.
The hose then detached and sprayed the two workers with the solution, causing severe burns.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified that the task was not adequately risk assessed by PSL Worldwide Projects Ltd, the equipment provided to do the job, in particular the hosing, was not suitable
for the solution, and the company failed to provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to its employees.
PSL Worldwide Projects Ltd of Bridgewater Lane, Washington, pleaded not guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 on 28 November 2016 at Bedlington Magistrates Court but they were found guilty and the case was referred to Newcastle Crown Court for sentencing.
After the hearing, HSE inspector Laura Catterall commented: “If a suitable risk assessment had been undertaken it would have identified that the equipment being used was not right for the chemicals or the work being carried out.
“All companies who work with high hazard chemicals should learn from this case and ensure that their workers are properly protected.”