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First Milk ordered to pay £60,000 after cheese plant explosion

By Mark Astley , 24-Aug-2012

UK-based First Milk has been ordered to pay nearly £60,000 in fines and charges following a court case relating to an explosion at a cheese factory in Cumbria.

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted the First Milk Cheese Company Ltd – a division of First Milk – following an investigation into a calorifier explosion at the firm’s Lake District Creamery.

The boiler house at the firm’s Aspatria-based Lake District Creamery was partially destroyed in the blast on 29 July 2010. The force of the explosion lifted the roof off the facility, blew out part of two ground floor walls and threw debris more than 100 metres across the site.

Despite the devastating effects of the explosion, nobody was injured in the incident.

The First Milk Cheese Company Ltd pleaded guilty to a breach of the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000, by failing to ensure the vent pipe on the calorifier was kept clear.

The firm was fined £20,000 for the regulation violation and ordered to pay an additional £36,064 in prosecution costs.

Blocked pipe

“We plead guilty at the earliest opportunity to the case against us in relation to an incident that took place in 2010 at our Lake District Creamery,” said a First Milk spokesperson.

“We recognise the seriousness of the incident and throughout the process of investigation; we have worked very closely with the Health and Safety Executive.”

Carlisle Magistrates’ Court heard that the calorifier - a water heating and storage system - could hold up to 9,000 litres of water and was used to produce hot water for washing down the dairy.

Following the explosion, a HSE investigation discovered that the ventilation pipe on the tank had become completely blocked with calcium carbonate.

The ventilation pipe was designed to allow water to escape if it became too hot.

The blockage meant that the pressure inside the tank continued to rise. The temperature of the water reached almost 150 degrees Celsius, before it eventually caused an explosion.

“We just want to put the situation behind us,” the First Milk spokesperson added.

“We have worked closely with the Health and Safety Executive to understand what happened to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

HSE warning

Commenting on the incident, HSE inspector Michael Griffiths said he hoped this case would act as a warning to other firms. 

I hope this prosecution will act as a warning to any other company that uses hot water and steam systems to make sure they are properly maintained so that incidents like this don’t happen in the future,” said Griffiths after the hearing.

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