Walkers’ safety procedures revised after toxic gas death

By Helen Glaberson

- Last updated on GMT

Walkers Snack Foods has revised its chemical delivery policy following on from a 2006 incident which resulted in a delivery truck driver being killed from toxic gas and the food manufacturer and chemical distribution company Omnichem being fined a total of £350,000 last week.

The Health and Safety Executive, which brought a prosecution against the UK snacks giant and the chemical company, said that Walkers now ensures there is delivery of only one chemical at a time to its starch reclamation unit in order to eliminate the risk of mixing chemicals.

During the court case at Leicester Crown Court, both companies pleaded guilty to breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Walkers was fined £200,000 and was ordered to pay costs of £38,971, while Omnichem was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay £29,229 in costs.

Fume intoxication

The court had heard that employee John Marriott was working for Omnichem on 19 July 2006 when he was seriously affected by green chlorine dioxide fumes. The worker had been driving a lorry containing four steel tanks, two with sodium chlorite and two containing hydrochloric acid, to Walkers' site in Leicester.

Both chemicals were to be used in Walkers' starch reclamation unit but the court hear that the driver mixed up the hoses on the tanks while transferring the two chemicals from the lorry causing them to produce green fumes of chlorine dioxide. Realising his error, Mr Marriott stopped the transfer and started to hose the area down, but he was already affected by the toxic gas.

The HSE said that Mr Marriott and a Walkers' employee were both taken to Leicester Royal Infirmary. The Walkers' employee later recovered but Mr Marriott's condition gradually deteriorated, and he died from the effects of the gas a month later.

Change to procedures

A spokesman for HSE told BakeryandSnacks.com that the two companies had reviewed and changed their procedures immediately in response to the incident.

Omnichem carried out an audit over their procedures and found that procedures were in place but that they were not necessarily being followed at the time.

The spokesman commented​that HSE is “happy with the changes”​.

HSE inspector Sue Thompson said that the​incident was​entirely preventable: “Basic risk assessments and clear procedures could have avoided Mr Marriott's tragic death but as it was there were a catalogue of serious failings,” ​she commented.

Thompson explained that Walkers' employees who had tried to help Mr Marriott had no appropriate training and they had no idea what to do.

She also added that Walkers also had no planned evacuation procedure for a chemical emergency at the location, there were insufficient written procedures for deliveries of chemicals and for the receipt of chemicals, and that the tanks were insufficiently labelled.

Health and safety programmes

In response to the case, Walkers said: “Walkers Snack Foods Limited is committed to ensuring the health and safety for all our employees, customers and visitors, and prompt remedial steps were taken immediately after this incident to ensure this does not happen on one of our sites ever again.

The Judge noted in his summing up that our employees did everything they could on the day to help Mr Marriott. The Judge also noted that Walkers Snack Foods Ltd is a reputable employer with a good safety record, and that we continue to run good Health and Safety programmes.”

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