A company that makes dairy and farm hygiene chemicals in Wiltshire has been fined after a large cloud of toxic gas was released into its factory.

The cloud of toxic chlorine gas spread through the GEA Farm Technologies (UK) Ltd factory, yard and surrounding area on Watery Lane, Bishopstrow near Warminster -  resulting in staff needing hospital treatment.

On June 12, 2019, GEA Farm Technologies (UK) Ltd mistakenly mixed an Intermediate Bulk Container (IBC) containing approximately 700 kg of concentrated sulphuric acid into a mixing vessel which already contained 1,600 litres of sodium hypochlorite solution.

The chemicals reacted and created a large cloud of toxic chlorine gas which spread through the factory. CCTV footage showed it permeating the factory and surrounding area. 

Several workers were taken to hospital with breathing difficulties. There was no clear evacuation plan for workers but fortunately no one suffered long-term effects.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the incident happened because a dedicated mixing plant had not been brought back into service after maintenance work, and the company had failed to introduce effective records management for the temporary manual system.

GEA Farm Technologies (UK) Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay costs of £22,000 at Basingstoke Magistrates’ Court on October 4, 2022.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector, Malcolm Whyatt, said: “In this case several workers were put at risk from a cloud of chlorine gas which drifted uncontrolled through their workplace.

“The company had previously designed their system to eliminate the possibility of human error, by reverting to a manual process they created a situation where mixing incompatible chemicals was possible. Chlorine can have severe health effects at very low levels, and they were fortunate that no-one was more seriously injured.”