A Rolleston-based pest bait manufacturing organisation has been fined $275,000 over an incident in which a worker was poisoned in May 2019 and nearly lost his life.
Pest Control Research Limited Partnership (PCR) manufactures pest control products including baits containing sodium fluoroacetate (more commonly known as 1080) as the toxic active ingredient.
In 2018-2019 PCR was experiencing issues with the ongoing supply of sodium fluoroacetate and set up an internal project codenamed the “Home Brew Project” / “Project X” to manufacture its own supply of the highly toxic substance.
“Health and safety requirements were not met from the very start of this project and cumulatively design, fabrication and process errors ultimately resulted in workers being exposed to highly toxic vapour from a failure in the manufacturing process and in PCR’s overall safety management systems,” Dr Catherine Gardner, Head of Specialist Interventions, said.
“One worker spent four weeks in hospital being treated for fluoroacetate poisoning and a further two months recuperating out of hospital.
His urine fluoroacetate reading was more than 500 times higher than WorkSafe’s Biological Exposure Index limit and he was extremely lucky to survive.”
The incident occurred during the first trial production of sodium fluoroacetate when an unexpected chemical reaction resulted in a loss of containment.
The work was being undertaken inside a purpose built self-contained chemical processing container inside an empty industrial unit in Bromley, Christchurch.
WorkSafe’s investigation into the incident uncovered a series of failings, including:
- There was no structured hazard and operability study prior to commissioning the operation;
- PCR did not obtain a peer review of the proposed chemical process, plant, and equipment from a competent person;
- PCR failed to ensure that there were safe ventilation arrangements for the chemical processing container (including for when it was operating under negative pressure),
- PCR failed to ensure that a commercial proprietary pressure relief valve was used on the processing container’s reactor;
- PCR failed to develop, document, implement, and communicate a safe system of work for the operation of the process including detailed operating procedures, automatic data logging, appropriate personal protective equipment, and an emergency response plan.
- PCR failed to test its chemical process and processing container by ensuring that a trial run was completed with a more benign raw material
- PCR failed to take any steps to obtain a Hazardous Substances Location Compliance Certificate and did not meet fundamental safety requirements to obtain a compliance certificate (including failing to notify WorkSafe, failing to display any signage on the outside of the Bromley building and inadequate signage on the process container itself, failing to prepare an emergency response plan and a site plan). They had also failed to ensure that a safety data sheet was readily accessible at the site for emergency service workers.
“PCR is experienced in handling and manufacturing hazardous substances but in this case, it would seem that their enthusiasm to create their own active ingredient has over-ridden the legal obligation to ensure their workers were protected. It was an operation they knew was dangerous and could have potentially fatal consequences” said Gardner.
PCR appeared for sentencing in the Christchurch District Court yesterday. PCR was fined $275,000. Reparation of $8,177 was ordered (in addition to what the Defendant had already paid voluntarily to the victim). Costs of $96,603.94 were awarded to WorkSafe.
Notes to media
WorkSafe is not available for interviews on this sentencing. We have nothing further to add to this release and any questions should be directed to PCR as the convicted party.
- Charge 1
- Sections 36(l)(a), s 48(1) and (2)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015
- Fine not exceeding $1,500,000
- Being a PCBU, having a duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers who work for the PCBU, while the workers are at work in the business on the home brew project, did fail to comply with that duty and that failure exposed individuals, to a risk of death or serious illness arising from exposure to hazardous substances.
- Charge 2
- Regulation 10.34(4)(b) of the Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017
- Fine not exceeding $50,000
- Being a PCBU with management or control of a hazardous substance location where Class 3.1B hazardous substances (91 kilograms of ethanol) and Class 3.1C hazardous substances (400 litres of ethyl fluoroacetate) were present, failed to ensure that the location had a current compliance certificate as required by regulation 10.34(1) Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017.
- Charge 3
- Regulation 10.26(8)(b) of the Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017
- Fine not exceeding $50,000
- Being a PCBU with management or control of a hazardous substance location where Class 3.1B hazardous substances (91 kilograms of ethanol) and Class 3.1C hazardous substances (400 litres of ethyl fluoroacetate)were present, failed to ensure that a site plan was available for inspection that showed the physical position, in relation to the legal boundary of the site in which the hazardous substance location was located as required by regulation 10.26(4)(b) Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017.
- Charge 4
- Regulation 2.11(7)(b) of the Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017
- Fine not exceeding $30,000
- Being a PCBU with management or control of a workplace failed to ensure that the current safety data sheet for -the Class 6.1B and Class 3.1C hazardous substance ethyl fluoroacetate or a condensed version of the key information from the safety data sheet was readily accessible to any emergency service worker or anyone else, who was likely to be exposed to the hazardous substance at the workplace, as required by regulation 2.11(3)(b) Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017.