The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the body which aims to reduce work-related injury and ill-health, has accepted a Crown Censure after one of its employees was left with serious burns following an accident at the HSE's laboratory in Buxton.

The employee was working on a prototype hydrogen storage vessel in October 2016 when the accident happened. The prototype vessel was was being tested to see if the design was suitable, and when it was being filled a connector failed and hydrogen escaped under pressure. The hydrogen then ignited, injuring the employee who was close to the vessel at the time.

Following the incident, HM Inspectors of Health and Safety led an investigation which concluded that the testing went wrong because of failings to assess, plan, manage and control a well-known risk of death or serious injury. The investigation found that the incident could have been prevented if recognised control measures were put in place.

HM Inspectors therefore issued a Crown Improvement Notice which requires the HSE to provide a system of work for proof testing and leak testing and an assembled hydrogen line and test tank to ensure the safety of employees and others in the vicinity. This has now been complied with.

By accepting the Censure, the HSE admitted to breaching its duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees in accordance with the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. However, because the HSE is a Government body, it cannot face prosecution in the same way as other organisations, which means there was no court appearance and no financial penalty. The Crown Censure, now that it has been accepted, will act as an official record of a breach of the law.

Director of field operations, Samantha Pearce, said that the law aims to reduce danger as much as possible. She added, “In this case, HSE bear this responsibility as an employer. They fell below the required standard and as the failings exposed workers to the risk of death or serious injury, a Crown Censure is the right course of action. HSE has co-operated fully with the investigation and we are satisfied that action has been taken to put matters right.”

Chief Executive of the HSE, Dr Richard Judge, said, “As chief executive of HSE, and on behalf of my colleagues on the Management Board and the HSE Board, I very much regret this incident happened, and especially that our colleague was injured. On this occasion, we did not meet the standards we expect of others and that is deeply disappointing. HSE accepts the Crown Censure. We took early action to resolve the immediate issues identified by the regulatory and internal investigations. In line with our spirit of continuous improvement, we are using the findings from the investigations as an opportunity to learn and to do significantly better.”