ICL fined £400,000 over Glasgow factory explosion

Two operators of a plastics factory were today fined a total of £400,000 over a blast that killed nine workers and injured 40 others.

ICL Plastics and ICL Tech had pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety legislation, admitting four offences that led to the explosion at their factory on May 11 2004. It was Scotland’s worst industrial disaster since the Piper Alpha oil rig explosion and fire in 1988.

The high court in Glasgow heard that the blast at the Stockline plant in Maryhill was caused by a build-up of liquid petroleum gas that had leaked from pipes.

The pipes dated back to 1969 and had corroded so that escaped gas was ignited when a builder flicked a switch in the factory. The judge, Lord Brodie, described the situation as a “ticking time bomb” and said whatever fine he imposed would be unsatisfactory to the relatives of those who perished.

“That response is by its nature an inadequate response,” he said.

“When the firm first pleaded guilty on August 17, relatives of the victims had said no court case or penalty could bring back their loved ones or provide an explanation as to why they died.”

The explosion happened at about noon as 60 people were inside the four-storey building. It brought down the walls, crushing workers and shaking nearby buildings.

By the time emergency services arrived, local people were pulling survivors from the rubble.

Rescue teams normally used in earthquakes helped 200 firefighters in the search and seven people were pulled out alive. The last body was retrieved three days later.

The subsequent investigation involved more than 120 police as well as Health and Safety Executive teams sifting through 550,000 tonnes of rubble.

The Glasgow Maryhill MSP Patricia Ferguson told Sky News that the verdict demonstrated the need for a public inquiry.

“I think, like the families, my opinion of this is that no amount of money can compensate for their lives,” she said.

“It does emphasise exactly why we have to have the widest possible public inquiry.”

Before the explosion, the bosses of the two companies involved had over the years ordered risk assessments at the factory but these had not specifically looked at the condition of the underground pipes.

The court heard yesterday that the pipework in question would have cost £405 to replace and that one risk assessment was carried out by a college student doing vacation work.

Lord Brodie said: “With the benefit of hindsight it seems remarkable that, through the whole period covered by the indictment, nothing was done by the accused companies to satisfy themselves that the pipe was sound and likely to remain so.”

The firms were prosecuted under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. In a statement read outside court, the directors said: “The companies welcome any form of inquiry that will properly establish all the facts and circumstances relating to the disaster.

“It is hoped that an inquiry will result in a full understanding of the circumstances and bring about necessary changes that will prevent any similar accidents occurring across business and industry in Scotland and beyond.

“For our part in this, we have, and will continue to, assist by being transparent in all aspects of our business both prior to the accident and since.”

Article source: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2007/aug/28/uknews

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