Tata Chemicals Guilty In 2016 Worker Death

June 10, 2024
Investigation found there was no permit in place for hazardous work in a live chemical plant.

On Nov. 30, 2016, a contract worker at Tata Chemicals Europe Limited stepped in a trough containing a liquid chemical calcium hydroxide – more commonly known as “milk of lime” – causing chemical and thermal burns. On Jan. 3, 2017, the worker suffered a hemorrhage to his right foot and died.

Michael Densmore, a 37-year-old father of four, was one of several scaffolders employed by Altrad NSG to erect scaffolding at Tata’s Lostock Hall site.

On June 5, 2024, Tata Chemicals pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at work etc. Act 1974. The company was fined £1.125 million ($1.210 million) and ordered to pay £60,603.54 ($77,172.43) in costs.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found there was no permit in place for hazardous work in a live chemical plant. HSE is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety.

In a June 5 news release, HSE inspector Matt Lea said: “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.”

Podcast: Deadly Lessons Learned From A Permit-To-Work Failure

Chemical Processing addressed the importance of permit-to-work in a Feb. 22, 2022, Process Safety with Trish & Traci podcast episode. Trish Kerin, director of the IChemE Safety Centre, noted, “The way I like to think about a permit-to-work system is it's about controlling the ownership and activities of a particular piece of equipment at a point in time. . . .  What the permit does, is it formally transfers ownership and accountability for that piece of equipment from the operations team to the maintaining team when that maintenance needs to be done.

“If you don't have a good permit-to-work system in your facility, you need to implement one. You need to make sure you've got the isolations in place so that people can safely interact with machinery without the risk of the machinery killing them in some way. But you also need to make sure that you can safely interact with the machinery without interfering with it in a way that's going to cause an incident, a fire, an explosion, or something like that. So, permit-to-work is absolutely critical. They have to be done no matter the scale of your business. This is about keeping people safe and also about understanding the status of your plant.”

About the Author

Traci Purdum | Editor-in-Chief

Traci Purdum, an award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering manufacturing and management issues, is a graduate of the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent, Ohio, and an alumnus of the Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

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