An operator of a manufacturing complex has been heavily fined after an explosion at the site.

Internal parts of the Ellesmere Port plant collapsed in the blast which resulted in more than £20m worth of damage. No-one was injured.

Essar Oil UK Ltd pleaded guilty to breaking Health & Safety regulations. It was fined £1,650,000 with costs of £57,600.

An investigation by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) found extremely flammable hydrocarbons had been allowed to enter an unused furnace. Heat from a nearby furnace then triggered the explosion and started a number of fires.

The incident was reported as a major accident under the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations 1999.

Three key failings

The HSE found Essar had not taken the steps necessary to prevent or mitigate a major accident. Key failings included:

  • wrongly installing a safety critical valve and incorrectly certifying its operation
  • poorly assessing the fitting of a new “safety critical trip” by failing to notice the system had a by-pass line which defeated the trip’s operation
  • not isolating all furnace fuel lines – hydrocarbons entered via a secondary fuel line that had not been isolated

Essar says it has put in place measures to make sure the incident does not happen again.

The HSE said the industry should take note of this case as “mistakes were made and could have been prevented”.

The HSE added that while the incident happened three and a half years ago, the size of the fine reflected February 2016’s sentencing guidelines which significantly increased the penalties available to courts.

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