Tata Chemicals Fined Over £1 Million After Contractor’s Fatal Accident at UK Plant

A 37-year-old father of four, employed as a scaffolder by Altrad NSG, tragically lost his life while working at Tata’s Lostock Hall site. On 30 November 2016, during his work, Densmore stepped over a trough containing milk of lime heated to about 90 degrees Celsius. His right foot slipped on an unsecured lid covering the trough, causing severe chemical and thermal burns to his foot and ankle.

Densmore was airlifted to Whiston Hospital’s burns unit, where he underwent specialist treatment and surgery on 8 December. He was discharged just over a week later. However, on 3 January 2017, he suffered a haemorrhage at home, necessitating a 999 call. Despite efforts, he tragically passed away.

His family expressed their grief in a statement: “Our lives fell apart and have not been the same since that terrible day. Nobody should have to lose someone they love due to a workplace accident. A mother should never have to give CPR to her own son, and a partner should never have to tell their children that their dad will not be coming home.

“Michael has missed so many life events in the past seven years, including missing his nieces having their own babies, his eldest son giving him a grandson, his youngest boys communions, to name just a few. What hurts us the most is the fact that he will never be able to complete all the plans he had for life, including marrying his Helen. The trauma, we have all suffered as a family, cannot truly be put into words. We were once a small happy close-knit family, who all lived life to the full, with Michael being the leader and now we just about get through each day.”

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation revealed that there was no permit for hazardous work at the live chemical plant. Those responsible for ensuring staff safety had not adequately assessed the risks involved. The scaffolding team had no clear understanding of how to address these risks.

Densmore had received only a brief induction when he started work on the site months before. Critically, he had not been informed that chemical products would be flowing through the plant or that the trough lids were not properly sealed. Tata employees had been observed working near the troughs, and there were no visible warning signs.

The investigation also uncovered previous health and safety violations by Tata Chemicals Europe at Lostock Hall and nearby Winnington Lane.

Tata Chemicals Europe Limited admitted to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company was fined £1.125 million and ordered to pay £60,603.54 in costs at Chester Crown Court on 5 June 2024.

After the case, HSE inspector Matt Lea stated: “This tragic death could have been preventable had Michael Densmore and his colleagues been managed under a robust permit to work system for working in a live chemical plant containing corrosive chemicals which had been heated almost to boiling point. Michael should not have been put in this unsafe working situation and should have been warned about the dangers of stepping over the troughs and that they were still in operation. Companies should learn the lessons from this incident if they have staff or contractors working in a similar environment and be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”

This prosecution was led by HSE enforcement lawyer Chloe Ward and supported by HSE paralegal officer Sarah Thomas.

Image credit: Northwich Guardian