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Carlsberg fined £3m for fatal ammonia leak

UK: Carlsberg has been fined £3m after refrigeration contractor David Chandler died and another was seriously injured following the ammonia leak at its Northampton brewery in 2016.

Birmingham Crown Court heard that Carlsberg had failed to put in place appropriate isolation controls to prevent exposure to ammonia before work started to remove a compressor from a refrigeration system. 

While the compressor was being removed, there was a large, uncontrolled release of ammonia. Father-of-two David Chandler, 45, was killed and David Beak, now 57, was seriously injured. Twenty people needed hospital checks after showing symptoms of ammonia exposure. It was several days before the leak was contained and gas levels dropped to a safe level.

The principal contractor for the project was Crowley Carbon UK Ltd, which had appointed numerous contractors to assist in the works. David Chandler and David Beak were both employees of sub-contractor Speedrite NE Ltd.

Carlsberg Supply Company UK Ltd, who were summonsed under their new company name of Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company, pleaded guilty to charges under Section 2(1) and Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The company was fined £3m with costs of £90,000.

Mr Chandler’s family, in a statement, said: “We welcome the conclusion of the prosecution case against Carlsberg UK Supply Company Ltd following the death of David five and half years ago.

“As a family we will never fully accept the death of David in such tragic but preventable circumstances and the legal process involved has been emotionally exhausting as well as frustrating given the length of time which has lapsed since the accident.

“We are pleased that improvements have been made at Carlsberg’s site in Northampton which will hopefully ensure no other families suffer the anguish we have endured since November 2016 when the failings at the brewery resulted in the deadly release of ammonia gas which caused David’s death.”

HSE principal inspector Samantha Wells said: “Industry guidance on safe isolation of plant should have been followed. This would have ensured that a higher level of isolation was in place, for prevention of exposure to this highly toxic and flammable substance.

“Both the client, Carlsberg, and the principal contractor should have worked together to ensure that the risk was adequately managed. Not only Carlsberg had a duty here. There was also a very clear duty on the principal contractor.

“This underlines the dangers of not following industry guidance when working with toxic and flammable substances – HSE will take action against all who fail to ensure the safety of employees and others who may be exposed to danger.

“Projects involving multiple contractors require effective management arrangements, so it’s clear who is responsible for every part of the work and that safety checks are carried out before allowing work to start.”

Deep regret

In a statement, Carlsberg Supply Company UK CEO Paul Davies said the company deeply regretted the tragic incident, the death of David Chandler and the injury to David Beak. “Our thoughts to this day remain with the families, friends and colleagues of those involved,” he said.

“We strive to attain and maintain the highest standards of health and safety management for our employees. Through our guilty plea to the charges and much earlier acceptance of responsibility, we recognise that on this occasion we did not meet these high standards. All remedial measures have since been taken and lessons learnt. As a company we will continue to put health and safety at the forefront of how we operate,” he added.

The Health and Safety Executive also brought a case against Crowley Carbon Ltd in relation to the incident but the company was wound up earlier this year.

Related stories:

HSE to prosecute over fatal ammonia leak30 January 2020
UK: The HSE is to prosecute both Carlsberg and one of the brewer’s principal contractors following the fatal ammonia leak at Carlsberg’s Northampton brewery in 2016. Read more…

Ammonia death accidental but preventable – 2 July 2018
UK: The death of David Chandler at the Carlsberg brewery in Northampton in 2016 was accidental, but the ammonia refrigerant leak which killed him was preventable, an inquest has decided. Read more…

HSE hits Carlsberg with Improvement Notice – 28 June 2017
UK: Carlsberg’s Northampton brewery, scene of the fatal ammonia refrigeration leak in November last year, has been issued with an Improvement Notice by the HSE. Read more…

Ammonia leak victim named – 18 November 2016
UK: The man, who died following last week’s ammonia leak at Carlsberg’s Northampton brewery, has been named as 45-year-old David Chandler from Bridgnorth. Read more…

Fridge plant suspect in fatal ammonia leak – 10 November 2016
UK: Investigators have so far refused to confirm or deny whether the refrigeration system was the source of yesterday’s fatal ammonia leak at the Carlsberg brewery in Northampton. Read more…

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