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Steer clear of DSEAR fines and headlines

by | Jul 21, 2016 | Blog, Engineering Design & HSE

Another day, another UK based company making health and safety headlines – sadly, however for all the wrong reasons.  As reported in the latest issue of IOSH magazine, across the country from us in Wales a seating manufacturer has been ordered to pay in excess of £52,000 after it was found guilty of not adhering to the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR).

The manufacturer designs and produces suspension and non-suspension seating systems for the agricultural, construction and industrial equipment markets. On 26th January 2015, an operator was burned at the company’s site in Wales, when a highly flammable mould release agent ignited, causing an explosion and fire.

The operator had been working on the low-pressure foam line, producing moulded seats for agricultural and construction vehicles. Expanding foam – a sticky mixture of polyol and isocyanate – was poured into plastic moulds using a dispensing arm on an overhead gantry. The moulds were first sprayed with a release agent, RF300BC, to prevent the foam sticking. The nozzle of the dispense arm was regularly cleaned to prevent a build-up of this foam and a dichloromethane solvent was used by workers to flush out the waste into a 210-litre metal waste drum, lined with a plastic bag. To stop the foam from sticking to the bag and drum, workers would apply a wax version of the release agent using a paintbrush.

On the day of the accident, CCTV footage showed the operator looking for wax – he could not find it and subsequently sprayed the release agent into the bag, unknowingly creating an explosive atmosphere. When he inserted the dispense nozzle into the drum, it created a spark, causing an explosion and fire  – and burns to the operator’s head and hands.

Sadly, this incident was all too avoidable: “Their health and safety advisor had repeatedly told them about the risks and the company had commissioned quotes for a DSEAR assessment from a consultant. Unfortunately they didn’t take him up on it, with the cost being a factor,” commented the HSE inspector assigned to the case. In addition, the company had no written procedures or outlines of safe systems of work – both of which are mandatory requirements for compliance to DSEAR regulations. The manufacturer’s electrical systems were ultimately unsuitable for use in an area where highly flammable substances were being sprayed, and an earthing strap had not been fitted to the waste drum.

With focus on day-to-day operations and production uptime, many organisations are unaware of their responsibilities under DSEAR regulations – until something goes wrong that is. The penalties for taking such a reactive approach can be severe: injury or worse to workers, fines to the organisation, damage to equipment and process lines, downtime or in some cases a need for a new site altogether – and associated costs and losses in profitability. Not to mention the damage to reputation both externally to customers and investors and internally to employees.

Don’t let DSEAR be an unseen risk in your organisation. The first step is to commission an expert in explosive atmospheres to complete a tailored site assessment – as the seating manufacturer case demonstrates, the cost of going through an assessment exercise is far less than dealing with the consequences of falling foul of regulations.

Assessing Explosive Atmospheres Risk Management

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