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£270k evaporates from BOC’s profits after cylinder blast

BOC has been fined £175,000 after three of its employees were injured when a 75 year old gas cylinder exploded at its plant.

BOC, the UK’s largest provider of industrial, medical and specialist gases, has been fined £175,000 after three of its employees were injured when a 75 year old gas cylinder exploded at its plant on Feeder Road, St Annes, Brislington.  Alan Garton was filling the cylinder with acetylene, a colourless gas that is widely used as a fuel and a chemical building block. He had disconnected it from the pipe to check it was full when it exploded. He sustained serious burns to his thigh, hands, groin, head and back in the January 2010 incident and has not been able to return to work. Two of his colleagues had minor injuries.An investigation by the HSE found acetylene solution within the cylinder became unstable and the cylinder exploded.

On 7 August 2014, Bristol Crown Court heard stress corrosion cracking caused the cylinder’s valve to fail; the unusually cold weather also contributed to the explosion.  BOC had been using the same system to refill the cylinders since the 1930s. It had moved from checking the cylinders every two years to every five years, and the one that exploded was due to be inspected the following month.  The investigation also found the firm regularly replaced faulty valves, but did not learn from these faults to avoid future problems.  The explosion caused a fire that burned for eight days and led to road closures and rail disruption. The plant has not reopened.

BOC admitted breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. As well as the fine, it was ordered to pay costs of £85,000.

Upon the conclusion of the hearing, the HSE confirmed that Mr Garton’s serious injuries could have been avoided with some simple measures such as a thorough assessment of the risks, including an identification of human error potential and the design of the work.  There was "no excuse" for a major hazard operator such as BOC to fail to implement the measures needed to prevent a major accident.