The employees, of PSL Worldwide Projects Ltd, were working at a Hyclone UK Ltd site in Cramlington in July 2014, using sodium hydroxide granules to clean the pipes. Newcastle Crown Court heard that a chemical reaction occurred between the granules and water that caused the liquid to heat up and build up pressure within the hose. The hose then detached and sprayed the two workers with the solution, causing severe burns.

One worker suffered life-threatening burns across his back, buttocks, arms, leg, neck and one side of his face. The other received burns to the right hand side of his head, his neck and back.

An HSE (Health & Safety Executive) investigation found that the task had not been adequately risk assessed by PSL, and said that the equipment provided – in particular the hosing – was not suitable for the sodium hydroxide solution. The company was also accused of not providing correct personal protective equipment to its employees.

In November 2016, PSL Worldwide Projects had pleaded not guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. They were subsequently found guilty and referred to Newcastle Crown Court for sentencing. On January 3 they were fined £150,000, although no costs were awarded due to the company being in liquidation.

“If a suitable risk assessment had been undertaken it would have identified that the equipment being used was not right for the chemicals or the work being carried out,” said Laura Catterall, HSE inspector. “All companies who work with high-hazard chemicals should learn from this case and ensure that their workers are properly protected.”