Oil company Esso has been fined half a million pounds for a leak of a dangerous gas that was only discovered by a worker who was cycling home.
A member of staff on their bike at the company’s Fawley, Hampshire refinery noticed what would turn out to be a release of 15 tonnes of liquified petroleum gas (LPG).
It had been going on for four hours at that point, and experts took another hour to find and stop the leak, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said.
Esso, which is owned by ExxonMobil, pleaded guilty at Southampton Magistrates Court to the 2015 leak, and was fined £500,000.
Where companies handle large quantities of substances that can cause major accidents, such as LPG, they are required to have layers of protection in place to prevent accidentsHSE inspector Jonathan Halewood
Gas had been put through a pipe at a pressure that was too high, and there was no system to detect problems, the HSE said.
“The measures required to prevent accidents should be proportionate to the risks,” said HSE inspector Jonathan Halewood.
“Where companies handle large quantities of substances that can cause major accidents, such as LPG, they are required to have layers of protection in place to prevent accidents.
“In this incident a number of those layers either failed or were not in place, resulting in a significant leak.
“Even though there was no fire or injury on this occasion, there was potential for a major accident.
“The prosecution has been brought to highlight the importance of maintaining the layers of protection and preventing this kind of major leak.”
An ExxonMobil spokesperson said: “We deeply regret this incident, and have actively revised relevant processes and procedures to further strengthen our safe operations.
“We have co-operated fully and constructively with the HSE in the course of its investigation.
“ExxonMobil Fawley works within the highest regulatory standards, and is committed to its safety and environmental responsibilities.”