Recycler fined over toner explosion

By Rhys Handley, Monday 12 March 2018

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Recycling company Ereco has been ordered to pay £60,000 for its mishandling of print toner, which led to an explosion that injured eight people and irreparably damaged a nearby print company on the Hobbs Industrial Estate in Surrey in 2011.

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Eight people were injured in the Hobbs explosion seven years ago

The incident on 3 October 2011 resulted in one worker being airlifted to King’s College Hospital, London, and placed in an induced coma. Four others were critically injured. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Surrey Fire & Rescue found that Ereco did not ensure there was a safe system of work in place to reduce risk from dangerous substances like toner.

Portsmouth Crown Court concluded that Ereco failed to carry out suitable fire risk assessments and follow the guidelines in the Dangerous Substances & Explosive Regulations 2002.

On 27 February this year, almost seven years on from the incident, the Crown Court ordered Ereco to pay £30,000 for health and safety legislation violations and an additional £30,000 in legal costs.

Damage from the resultant explosion impacted neighbouring print company MI Print, a then seven-staff business. Two of its employees sustained minor injuries in the incident.

Managing director Ian Donald was told his firm would never be able to trade from the estate again. The printer has since ceased trading and was officially struck off from Companies House in April 2013. It remains in a state of liquidation, with Crawley-based solicitor Benedict Mackenzie Recovery the latest firm appointed as of January this year.

Surrey County Council member for communities Denise Turner-Stewart said: “Despite warnings, Ereco failed to deal with the risk of fire at its plant leading to a catastrophic explosion of flammable toner powder.

“Surrey Fire & Rescue Service works with employers to help them comply with fire safety laws, but where a lax approach puts people at risk [it] won’t hesitate to take enforcement and legal action.”

The investigation also found that the machinery used to shred and process toner cartridges, constructed by Paramount Waste Extraction, had not been built with consideration for the possibility of overload due to residual toner powder left inside. Paramount was ordered to pay £32,000 in legislative violations and court costs.

HSE inspector Michelle Canning said: “All the employees involved in this incident are extremely lucky this explosion didn’t prove fatal. Ereco failed to take the required precautions before starting a process of work with dangerous substances and this failure resulted in this serious, life threatening explosion.

“Both designers and suppliers must ensure that the risks of using their equipment are eliminated through safe design, and this should include taking into account foreseeable misuse.”

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