Company fined after reactor explosion fires machine parts through roof of chemical plant

An investigation determined the explosion could have been avoided and the company pleaded guilty at a hearing.

A chemical manufacturer in Widnes has been hit with a heavy fine after an explosion led to a reactor bursting open and ejecting machine parts through a roof of the plant.

Fortunately, nobody was injured in the incident, at CatAlloy Limited on December 3, 2015, but the company was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay costs of £50,000 following a hearing at Liverpool Crown Court this month.

CatAlloy, Moss Bank Road, Widnes. Image: Google street view

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found how air drawn into the reactor mixed with hydrogen, causing overpressure that led to the explosion.

The lid of the reactor, burst open and the gearbox and the electric drive motor, situated on top of it, were fired through the roof of the building after breaking their mountings.

The investigation also found that a residual product had been left in the reactor, which is used for the manufacture of nickel catalyst, that can ignite when exposed to air.

CatAlloy Limited, of Moss Bank Road, pleaded guilty to breaching sections of the Health and Safety at Work Act at the crown court hearing on September 12.

HSE inspector Sean Bembridge said: “This incident could so easily have been avoided by implementing appropriate control measures and safe working practices.”