UK Rendering Plant - Confined Spaces

Owners of a Brechin rendering plant fined £12,000 after workers overcome by toxic fumes

The owners of a Brechin rendering plant have been convicted of failing to ensure proper health and safety standards were in place, after two workers were overcome by fumes produced by rotting animal waste.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) today warned companies about the dangers of fumes building up in confined workspaces. It urged that checks be made to ensure areas are well ventilated and monitored and that workers have an easy means of escape in the event of an emergency.

The men were overcome by hydrogen sulphide in July 2007, as they delivered animal waste from the neighbouring abattoir to a waste pit in preparation for incineration. They collapsed and lay unconscious in the waste intake area of the plant before being rescued and taken to hospital. One was kept in the intensive care unit overnight.

At Forfar Sheriff Court today, Sacone Environmental Ltd of Brechin was fined £12,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

The court heard that the waste intake area had no gas monitors or alarms installed and its enclosed nature meant there was little exchange of air, effectively making it a confined space. To reduce emissions from the rendering processes, the plant is enclosed by the fabric of the building. Access to, and exit from the building was controlled by two sets of doors, only one of which can be opened at a time, to prevent the escape of gases and odours. Waste is tipped into a pit and may remain there for hours or days before being processed and incinerated.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Investigating Inspector John Radcliffe is now warning companies about the risk to their employees working in confined spaces:

“This accident was entirely foreseeable and preventable.

“It was foreseeable that hydrogen sulphide could accumulate in this plant; and there are reasonably practicable controls available to reduce the risks for exposure to the gas in that area.

Such areas should be well ventilated and gas monitoring equipment, designed to provide an alert in the event of a gas build up, should have been provided. There was no quick means of escape from this area of the plant, nor was protective respiratory equipment provided.

“Hydrogen sulphide is an acutely toxic gas to humans. There have been numerous fatal workplace poisonings in industries including leather plants, animal houses, sewerage and effluent treatment sumps and other confined spaces.”

Notes to editors

  1. Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 places a duty on every employer conducting an undertaking to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not exposed to risk to their health and safety.
  2. Hydrogen sulphide is a toxic colourless extremely flammable gas, slightly denser than air. At low levels in air it produces a distinctive rotten egg smell; but not when present in high concentrations.