Drug manufacturing, while very sophisticated, is an industrial process with the potential for injuries, sometimes fatal. A worker at an Aesica plant in the U.K. was severely burned after being doused with 7 liters of bromine as he worked on a storage tank, landing him in the hospital and the company in court.
According to Manufacturing Chemist, the company will pay a £100,000 ($161,000) fine for the 2007 incident. It reported that during a recent Newcastle Court hearing, U.K. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Inspector Graham Watson called the 2007 accident a "serious incident with potentially fatal consequences which was readily preventable." The HSE found that the bolts on bellows in the tank, which had been taken offline after failing an insurance inspection, were badly corroded and a section of bromine pipework was not adequately supported. The worker was in the hospital for four weeks and continues to get treatments.
The company has pleaded guilty to violating the Health and Safety at Work Act. Steve Barker, a spokesman from the plant in Cramlington, Northumberland, told Manufacturing Chemist, "This was an isolated incident during which only a small amount of bromine was released and was an unfortunate result of a mechanical failure of a pipework fitting at the site." He said the company continues to evaluate its procedures to keep anything like this from ever happening again.
While serious pharmaceutical plant accidents are not common, neither are they rare. Four employees at the Neptune Technologies & Bioresources ($NEPT) plant in Sherbrooke, Canada, were killed and 17 injured last year when an explosion leveled the omega-3 manufacturing plant. The lead chemist at a Sunovion Pharmaceuticals API plant in Windsor, Canada, died of lung failure in 2008 when exhaust hoods to a laboratory stopped operating while work was being done on the roof. The company paid a $47,000 OSHA fine and pleaded guilty to charges in that case. A worker at an Amgen ($AMGN) research facility in South San Francisco was hospitalized in May after a "flash fire" involving hazardous materials.
In Aesica's case, Barker said, "We accept the court's ruling and have already implemented stringent measures to ensure this remains an isolated incident in what is a site with an exceptional safety record, spanning over 30-years of bromine use."
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