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Oil company ordered to pay out

HSE InfoLine : 23 March, 2006  (Company News)
Total Lindsey Oil Refinery Limited has been fined
Total Lindsey Oil Refinery Limited has been fined 14,000 following a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive after an explosion at its refinery in Immingham, North Killingholme. HSE's investigation found that TLOR failed to adequately manage risks posed to workers carrying out maintenance on its behalf on a crude oil storage tank.

Following the conclusion of the case, Mike Nind, HSE's investigating inspector, said: 'The incident could have been prevented by a number of simple and reasonably practicable measures including improved awareness of the hazards and risks, proper supervision of work activities and better monitoring and auditing of safety critical tasks.'

The explosion happened on 14 December 2004 while work was being carried out on a storage tank that was out of service. As part of the work, TLOR had contracted Jacobs Catalytic Ltd to use oxy-acetylene cutting equipment to cut brackets on the tank's floating roof. The floating roof consisted of 38 hollow pontoons that provide buoyancy to allow the roof to float on the surface of the oil as the tank is emptied or filled.

At the time of the incident, the tank was empty and the roof was at the bottom. Before work started all remaining oil and sediment from the space between the underside of the floating roof and the tank floor had been washed to a 'hydrocarbon free' standard.

However, as the workers, who were standing on top of the roof, cut through the brackets a build-up of flammable oil vapour inside one of the hollow pontoons was ignited causing an explosion that blew several workers off their feet, with some reporting landing four to five metres from where they had been standing. Fortunately, none of the workers were seriously injured.

The HSE investigation found that TLOR had failed to preserve an adequate record of pontoons that contained leaks. In particular, although the presence of crude oil within the pontoon had been originally identified and recorded in 1988, this information was not preserved and not passed on to the contractor carrying out the work. As a result, the leaking pontoon was not cleaned out before the cutting work started.

The investigation also found that TLOR had failed to ensure that a suitable and sufficient assessment of the potential for explosive was undertaken. TLOR's procedures required that operations staff carry out checks after cleaning but did not specify that pontoons were to be included. Although their procedures did require staff to inspect all pontoons for leakage and vapour build-up prior to cutting work, this was not done.

Total Lindsey Oil Refinery Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 at Grimsby and Cleethorpes Magistrates' Court on 21 March 2006 in that it did not ensure the safety of persons not in their employment. The company was fined 14,000 with costs of 518.
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