The premises was occupied by the ICL group of companies which is made up of seven firms that were privately owned limited companies, the occupants at the premises were 3 out of the seven companies owned by ICL group. They include the following: Stockline (Stockline plastics limited), ICL Tech (ICL technical plastic limited) and ICL plastics limited. The owner of the Grovepark mills premises was ICL plastic limited. The majority of the casualties of the incident comprised of employees of some of these companies.
The explosion was the worst health and safety incident after the piper alpha tragedy in 1988 that occurred in Scotland where there was a record of 167 deaths. The ICL factory explosion occurred as a result of a leak of LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) into the basement of the factory from underground metallic pipes that were corroded ( Department of Works and Pension (DWP), 2010) . The ignition of the LPG triggered an explosion that led to the collapse of the building. Most of the fatalities were as a direct result of the building collapse, only one death occurred due to the direct impact of the ignition of the LPG
The emergency services were swift in their response, thus saving considerably more lives. The Fire and Rescue Service, medical teams and the Police, arrived at the scene on time. A large number of emergency service personnel (in their hundreds) from all around the United Kingdom offered to help out, including members of the specialist rescue teams across the north of England and Scotland. During the first three days of the rescue operation, the bodies of the dead were recovered. The last body of the deceased was removed at around 11.25 am from the site on the 14th of May 2004. At the end of the rescue phase, the Fire and Rescue Service handed over control of the accident scene to the Police (Gill B. , 2009).
Aside from the failings of the companies involved in this incident, there was also the failings on the part of the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), in their inability to conduct proper and thorough inspection and the exposure of a whistleblower to the company management.
2.1 GROVEPARK MILLS PREMISES
The location of the Grovepark mills building was in an area that was bordered by Hopehill road, Grovepark place and Grovepark Street. Three buildings were situated on the Grovepark mills premises, and they included the following: The mill building (main building), the warehouse building (occupied by Stockline, retail business in plastic was carried out here) and the fabrication shop. The holding company of the premises was ICL Plastics, and it started full use/occupation of the premises in 1969. On the day of the explosion 66 people were working at the site (Gill B. , 2009).
2.2 MAIN BUILDING: STRUCTURE
The main building was made up of four storeys; the first three floors were made of timber and were supported on a grid that was made of cast iron columns. The location of the floors were on trusses made from timber, that was supported on the inside with the columns that ran from the east to west along the middle line of each floor carrying transverse timber beams. The columns became thinner on the top floors as they carried fewer loads (Gill B. , 2009).
The space on each floor was divided by partitions that were non-structural. People entered the top floors and the area below the ground level through the use of a stair tower. The stair tower was added to the building at around 1907.
Prior to the explosion, two thirds of the ground floor was used as the coating shop (in this place plastic coating is applied to metallic components), while one third of the floor was utilized as an area for despatching goods. There were a total of 6 ovens (2 gas ovens and 4 electric ovens) present in the coating shop, and they were all operated by ICL Tech (Gill B. , 2009).
2.3 FABRICATION SHOP
The drilling, shaping, welding and cutting of metals and plastics were carried out at the fabrication shop. The building where the fabrication shop was located was modern, with a single-storey rectangular portal- framed steel structure that had a sheeted roof made of asbestos, and brick wall panels that were located to the north of the Grovepark Mills. There was also the cutting of wood to make jigs, moulds and frames in the fabrication shop. The fabrication shop was previously located in the main building before its relocation to the building that was also known as the Scooter Centre.
There was the use of different machineries in the fabrication shop, and a cabinet where different chemicals were stored. The presence of LPG in the building was in a flamer that worked off a propane bottle, and this was used once a week. It was not in use on the day of the explosion (Gill B. , 2009).
2.4 STOCKLINE WAREHOUSE
This was the only building to survive the explosion; it was leased by Stockline from ICL plastics. The key dealing of Stockline was in the sale and storage of plastic sheeting in bulk. The machinery present in the warehouse was few, and used mainly for the altering and cutting of sheets to the specification of customers. During the period prior to the disaster, the majority of the office staff of Stockline worked out of the main building (Gill B. , 2009).
2.5 THE YARD
This was located on the south side of the main building, and it had a triangular shape. A LPG bulk storage tank was situated here, at a distance of around 15.5 feet from the main building. The tank was connected to the underground piping running beneath the yard.
This pipe formerly rose to enter the main building over the ground via a window that was bricked up and into the open pit area. To deal with problems of flooding, the yard level was raised in 1973.This resulted in covering of the LPG pipework at the point where it entered the building (Gill B. , 2009).
FIGURE 2: diagram showing the model of the structures on the premises: (Gill B. , 2009)
3.0 CAUSE AND CONSEQUENCE OF EXPLOSION
The explosion was as a result of the ignition of the atmosphere (the atmosphere formed was explosive) present in the basement region of the main building. The explosive atmosphere was created due to a leak of LPG into the basement area of the factory, the leak occurred as a result of the corrosion of the underground metallic pipework.
The explosion produced a shockwave that was greater than the atmospheric pressure of the surrounding (high overpressures); this led to the collapse of the building relatively within its footprint, the sections of the roof that were flat buckled directly downwards. The part of the building that was bordered by Hopehill end road collapsed completely, while the area that was bordered by the Grovepark Street was left standing but had suffered severe damage. Most of the walls in the premises collapsed; meanwhile the fabrication shop was left mostly intact. The LPG tank that was located within the premises was dislodged partly, and the Stockline warehouse was undamaged. After investigations were carried out, from the patterns of the explosion and damage, it was concluded that the explosion seat had been the Hopehill road end of the building (the region bordering the despatch area of the building) (Gill B. , 2009).
3.1 MECHANISM OF THE EXPLOSION
The most likely mechanism of the explosion as described by Brian Gill was that after the ignition, the explosion started to move all the way through the doorway to the stairwell; the movement had no effect in reducing the overpressure. This in turn caused the floor of the despatch area to break apart, thus causing the explosion to move to the ground floor. The overpressures from the explosion caused many walls (i.e. basement wall) and ceiling in the building to fall apart.
Only one person died as a direct result of the explosion, the remaining deaths and injuries were as a result of the collapse of the building.
4.0 PROSECUTION AND FINES
Proceedings on indictment against ICL Tech limited and ICL plastics Limited were carried out in November of 2006 by the Crown (COPFS, 2008), under Section 33 (1) (a) of the Health and Safety at work act. Act 1974 (OPSI, 2006).
The table below shows the charges brought against the companies amongst others include:
CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST ICL PLASTICS LTD AND ICL TECH
Failure to ensure adequate and appropriate assessments of the health and safety of their employees at work; this was by the inability to identify that LPG that was been conveyed by the pipework in from the bulk storage vessel to the premises was hazardous and posed a possible risk;
Failure to ensure an appropriate system of maintenance and inspection of the LPG installations (pipework)
Failure in appointing suitable qualified personnel to carry out risk assessments;
Failure to certify as reasonably possible, that the LPG pipework was maintained to an extent that the there was a minimal risk to health and safety of employees.
Table 1: Charges brought against the companies source: (Gill B. , 2009).
The companies pled guilty to the charges brought against them on the 17th
August 2007. On the 28th of August, they were fined a total of £400,000, each company paying £200,000 (Gill B. , 2009).
LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) is the common name for hydrocarbon fuel gases with the active constituents being butane and propane; it is an odourless gas in its natural state. The constituents are derived from petroleum and can be converted to a liquid state through the application of refrigeration and/or moderate pressure. At ambient temperature, LPG in its liquid form can exert a pressure that equals its vapour pressure, thus the need for it to be stored in an appropriate pressure vessel. In most instances, it is supplied in the form of commercial propane and has a high possibility of expansion. In the vapour state at standard atmospheric pressure, LPG is just about two times heavier than air, and when released into the atmosphere LPG vaporises and forms a mixture with air (this mixture is flammable). Leaked LPG is likely to flow along the floor and tends to accumulate at low spots such as drains, bilges of boats, basements and pits (HSE, 2009).
As a result of its high density and flammability at low concentrations in air, LPG is hazardous (HSE, 2010).
It should be noted that the underground pipework transporting LPG in the ICL premises was made of metal, and had undergone corrosion. The pipework was first installed in 1969.
Figure 3: The LPG underground pipeline enters the building in an alcove in the basement
6.0 IMPACT OF THE INCIDENT
The stakeholders of the company include the following: HSE, the employees and company directors.
The incident had a negative effect on all the stakeholders , it either reflected badly on them as was the case of the HSE and the company management, or they had suffered a loss, as was the case of the workers. The tragedy would have been avoided if the company management had followed the correct protocol in the installation and maintenance of LPG pipework, and had assessed the risk in order to ensure the safety of workers; the HSE would have also had a chance at preventing the tragedy if they had done a thorough inspection of the facility without pre-informing management of their intention to come for a site visit. There was also obviously a lack of communication between the different parties, i.e. between the workforce and the management team and between the HSE and the workers.
The employees suffered the most loss, as they were the ones who were injured and were made to work in an environment that exposed them to risks to their health and safety. Most workers during there time with the company as was stated by an independent report had never experienced any risk assessment exercise been carried out. According to a former employee of ICL plastic, they were made to work in an environment that posed a risk to their health and safety (UNIVERSITIES OF STRATHCLYDE AND STIRLING, 2007).
The incident exposed some failings in the process of inspection carried out by the HSE and the tactless method by which a HSE inspector exposed a whistleblower to his employer (ICL Plastics managers); this would have deterred any other worker from coming forward if they had encountered any further breach of health and safety.
In an independent report conducted by Strathclyde and Sterling University, it was clear that the management knew in advance when inspectors from the HSE were coming, thus giving them time to window dress. This enabled a lot of cover up in situations that would have been highlighted to save lives. There was also a general weakness of the regulatory regime ( Department of Works and Pension (DWP), 2010).
6.3 COMPANY MANAGEMENT
The management of the companies involved had failed in their duty to provide a safe environment for their employees. They did not follow the risk assessment protocols in the maintenance of LPG installations and there was also the breach of health and safety legislations in other areas of the factory. It was their sole responsibility to maintain the underground LPG pipework installations. According to the inquiry, there was no mention of risk assessment being carried out on the underground pipework, as it seemed to have been forgotten by managers. The last time there was a mention of the maintenance or risk assessment of the LPG pipework was in 1993 when it was highlighted by a HSE inspector. It is likely to have been a case of out of sight becoming out of mind. For the company this incident cost them a lot, as they lost talented people, and spent a lot of money in renovation and fines. The risks that were posed by the LPG installations were not thoroughly understood by the companies, thus they could not be properly identified.
To ensure this incident does not occur again and for improvement in the health and safety practices in factories that deals with LPG, new regulations have to be put in place, and risk assessments should be carried out by competent individuals from within and from outside the company. Currently some new regulations have been put in place by HSE, and there has also been a formation of a trade association that deals with LPG (UKLPG). Some of the recommendations are listed in the table below:
LPG as stated earlier is an odourless gas when in its natural form, thus the presence of an odorant will make it detectable when a leakage occurs. This stenching agent will protect workers from risks associated with asphyxiation and fire, which is likely to occur when LPG is present in high concentration in an enclosed space
The installation of the LPG pipeline underground is not recommended and should be avoided as much as possible. The HSE recommends the use of pipework made from materials such as polyethylene (HSE, 2009).
Effective line of communications should be opened between all stakeholders.
In companies/factories where LPG is used, the position of health and safety officer should be created, to ensure that there is adequate record keeping and up to date adherence to all health and safety legislations and regulations.
The introduction of a system where safety issues and questions will be reviewed and handled on an industry basis.
To ensure that this type of tragic incident is prevented from reoccurring, there has to be a change in the current system .The HSE has made some changes between 2004 and 2010 and there is still the need for more changes to occur.
Employers need to be aware that the health and safety of their workers is paramount and that all workers have the right to work in a safe environment, employees should also be aware that they have the right to report to the HSE when they feel their work environment is not safe and the employers are doing nothing about it. Thus there is the need to ensure that all health and safety legislations' are followed and that a qualified personnel is in charge of the risk assessment exercise. In premises where there is the presence of LPG, all installations should be checked regularly for leaks and given priority when carrying out the risk assessment exercise. As recommended by the HSE, all existing metallic pipework should be replaced by pipework made from polyethylene materials. Therefore, this replacement at industrial and commercial premises will be a major undertaking and need to be prioritised based on the assessed risk of the failure of the pipeline and of the gas entering a neighbouring building (HSE, 2009).