Lone working technician working in lab

In the News: Lone worker asphyxiation

Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust and Imperial College London, have been fined following the death of a lone worker.

In October 2011, Damian Bowen was asphyxiated whilst decanting liquid nitrogen, used to freeze blood samples, in a London laboratory.

An investigation into the incident by the HSE, found that the local exhaust ventilation provided to extract dangerous substances, had been switched off. When released into the air, the liquid nitrogen expanded as a gas, replacing the oxygen in the room and creating a deadly atmosphere.

Working with hazardous substances

Working with hazardous substances could cause a number of health issues if not handled correctly. From burns and inflammation, to cancers, respiratory problems and even death.

Legally, procedures and control measures must be put in place for employees handling or working near hazardous substances. In this case, the ventilation system would have been a sufficient way to prevent harm, and Bowen would not have died.

The failure to implement a system that prevented the extraction from being switched off, a proper system of maintaining the equipment and clear arrangements from preventing lone working with liquid nitrogen, demonstrated a clear breach of health and safety legislation.

The outcome

Both Chelsea & Westminster NHS Trust and Imperial College London, pleaded guilty of breaching Section 3 (1) and Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

The building in which the incident occurred, belonged to Chelsea & Westminster NHS Trust, who were fined £80,000 and ordered to pay costs of £23,069.19.

However, the room was rented by Imperial College London who owned the liquid nitrogen store. They were fined £70,000 with costs of £23,069.19.

Lessons learnt

The death of lone worker Damian Bowen, was an entirely preventable incident. When working with hazardous substances, employers must ensure that not only are procedures in place to prevent harm, but they are always put into practice and regularly checked.

If working alone with hazardous substances, a thorough risk assessment should determine whether it is safe to do so. In this case, the HSE inspector involved concluded that lone working should not have been allowed.

If lone working is determined to be safe in other circumstances, additional safety measures must be put in place to ensure they are at no more risk than employees working alongside colleagues.

One effective way of doing so, is to ensure every lone worker has a way to signal for help in an emergency, even if they are unable to physically do so themselves.

With StaySafe, missed check-in and man-down alerts ensure someone is alerted as soon as possible, even if an employee in knocked unconscious. This is incredibly important for those working with hazardous substances where an accident would require immediate medical attention.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply