Tata Chemicals Fined over £1 million Following Contractor’s Death

Tata Chemicals Europe Limited has been fined after a young father died following an incident while erecting a scaffold tower at a chemical plant in Northwich, Cheshire. Michael Densmore passed away due to complications from a wound sustained when his right foot slipped into a trough containing the liquid chemical calcium hydroxide, more commonly known as ‘milk of lime,’ causing chemical and thermal burns.

The 37-year-old father of four was one of several scaffolders employed by Altrad NSG to erect scaffolding at Tata’s Lostock Hall site. On 30th November 2016, during this work, Densmore stepped over a trough containing milk of lime, which had been heated to approximately 90 degrees Celsius. His right foot slipped on an unfastened lid covering the trough, resulting in chemical and thermal burns to his foot and ankle.

He was airlifted to Whiston Hospital burns unit, where he received specialist treatment and underwent surgery on 8th December before being discharged just over a week later. However, on 3rd January 2017, while at home, he suffered a haemorrhage to his right foot and was taken to hospital following a 999 call, but tragically died.

In a statement, his family said: “Our lives fell apart and have not been the same since that terrible day. Nobody should have to lose someone they love due to an accident that happened at work. 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 his nieces having their own babies, his eldest son giving him a grandson, and 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 found there was no permit in place for hazardous work in a live chemical plant. Little proper thought had been given to the risks involved by those responsible for ensuring staff safety. As far as the scaffolding team was concerned, there was no clearly understood plan to address these risks.

Densmore had only received a brief induction when he started work on the site some months before. Crucially, he had not been warned that there would be chemical product flowing through the plant and that the lids to the trough had not been properly sealed. Tata employees had been seen working on or near the troughs, and there were no visible warning signs in place.

It also found that there had been previous prosecutions of Tata Chemicals Europe relating to health and safety failures at Lostock Hall and nearby Winnington Lane.

Tata Chemicals Europe Limited pleaded guilty 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 5th June 2024.

Speaking after the case, HSE inspector Matt Lea said: “This tragic death could have been prevented 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 brought by HSE enforcement lawyer Chloe Ward and supported by HSE paralegal officer Sarah Thomas.