Tata fined over scaffolder burns horror

The incident took place at Tata Chemicals’ Lostock Hall site

Michael Densmore, from Halewood in Merseyside, died following complications to the wound he sustained after his right foot slipped into a trough containing calcium hydroxide – milk of lime – causing chemical and thermal burns.

The 37-year-old father-of-four was one of a number of scaffolders employed by Altrad NSG to erect scaffolding at Tata Chemical’s Lostock Hall site in Northwich.

On 30th November 2016, during the course of this work, Mr Densmore stepped over a trough containing milk of lime that had been heated to approximately 90 degrees centigrade. His right foot slipped on an unfastened lid covering the trough, resulting in him sustaining chemical and thermal burns to his foot and ankle.

He was airlifted to hospital, received specialist treatment and underwent surgery on 8th  December. He was discharged just over a week later but on 3rd January 2017, while at home, he suffered a haemorrhage to his right foot. He was rushed to hospital but died.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found there was no permit in place for hazardous work in a live chemical plant.  Little thought had been given to the risks involved by those responsible for ensuring staff safety, it found. As far as the scaffolding team was concerned, there was no clearly understood plan to address these risks. Mr Densmore had only received a brief induction when he started work on the site some months before.  He had not been warned that there would be chemical product flowing through the plant and that the lids to the trough had not been properly sealed.  Tata employees had been seen working on or near the troughs and there were no visible warning signs in place.

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Michael Densmore

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It also found that there had been previous prosecutions of Tata Chemicals Europe relating to health & safety failures at Lostock Hall and nearby Winnington Lane.

Tata Chemicals Europe Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at work etc. Act 1974. It was fined £1.125m and ordered to pay £60,603.54 in costs at Chester Crown Court on 5th June 2024.

HSE inspector Matt Lea said after the case: “This tragic death could have been preventable had Michael Densmore and his colleagues been managed under a robust permit to work system for working in a live chemical plant containing corrosive chemicals which had been heated almost to boiling point.

“Michael should not have been put in this unsafe working situation and should have been warned about the dangers of stepping over the troughs and that they were still in operation.

“Companies should learn the lessons from this incident if they have staff or contractors working in a similar environment and be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”

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