29 Jul 2021

Pest company fined $275k for exposing employee to 1080

6:22 pm on 29 July 2021

A Canterbury pest bait manufacturer has been fined $275,000 by WorkSafe, after an employee nearly died from being exposed to toxic vapour while producing the active ingredient in 1080.

Christchurch Court building

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The incident happened inside a self-contained chemical processing container in Bromley, Christchurch.

The organisation behind the incident was Rolleston-based Pest Control Research (PCR), which makes pest control products, including 1080 baits.

WorkSafe says from 2018 to 2019, the group was experiencing supply issues with sodium fluoroacetate (the active ingredient in 1080) - and set up a project to manufacture its own supply of the poison.

The project was code named the "Home Brew Project" / "Project X".

WorkSafe head of specialist interventions Dr Catherine Gardner said: "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.

"One worker spent four weeks in hospital being treated for fluoroacetate poisoning and a further two months recuperating out of hospital," she said.

Gardner said the man's urine fluoroacetate reading was more than 500 times higher than WorkSafe's Biological Exposure Index.

The man was "extremely lucky to survive", she said.

PCR appeared for sentencing at the Christchurch District Court yesterday.

In addition to the $275,000 fine, it was ordered to pay $8177 in reparation, in addition to what it had already voluntarily paid to the victim. Costs of $96,603 were awarded to WorkSafe.

The company was charged with four offences, and faced a maximum fine of $1.5 million under the most serious charge.

The incident occurred during the first trial production of 1080 when a runaway chemical reaction resulted in a loss of containment.

WorkSafe said its investigation 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 also 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.

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