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Dangerous Leak Calls for Better Care with Pallet Stacking

10 Jun 2015

The importance of using fully trained and supervised personnel when loading dangerous and corrosive chemicals for transportation was brought to the fore in a March court case against Whitman Laboratories Ltd of Petersfield, Hampshire, and Allport Cargo Services Ltd of Uxbridge, Middlesex.

In March this year, a load of 170 plastic jerry cans that contained a 45 per cent solution of potassium hydroxide – a highly corrosive chemical commonly called potash soda – that was produced by Whitman began to leak from an Allport Cargo Services lorry that was en route from Hampshire to Belgium.

The cans had toppled over during the transport because they had not been stacked securely on pallets. The pallets in turn had not been braced adequately on the lorry’s trailer. The lorry’s driver noticed the leak when he stopped on the M2 motorway at a service station in Kent.

Wrong Advice from Depot

The driver immediately phoned his transport supervisor at Allport Cargo, saying that the leaking substance was extremely corrosive, and he asked that emergency services be called to the scene. However, the transport supervisor, with advice from her own line manager, told the driver to return the load to an Allport Cargo depot some 12 miles away in Sittingbourne, Kent. It took a further two hours for the load to be examined at that depot and for the company to call the emergency services.

HSE Investigation

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) discovered that the pallets had been stacked by an untrained contract employee who had started work at the depot only the previous week. This employee was unsupervised during the loading. Whitman Laboratories, for its part, had not provided any information or guidance to its Allport Cargo client.

Regulations and Pleas

At Medway Magistrates Court, Allport Cargo pleaded guilty to a failure to comply with Regulation 5 of the 2009 Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations. Over 4000kg of potassium hydroxide solution was both inadequately restrained as required by the regulations and also by a European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road. Allport was also guilty of failing to notify the emergency services immediately and continuing to transport the load when it did not comply with the regulations.

Whitman pleaded guilty under the same regulations for failing to provide adequate training to the employee who loaded the pallets, allowing the employee to continue to work unsupervised, loading dangerous goods without the correct restraints and loading dangerous goods in jerry cans with unsecured closures.


Both companies were fined £20,000 each, with an additional £3,438 for costs and £120 for a victim surcharge.

A spokesman for the HSE said that the companies’ responsibilities under the regulations were very clear. Potassium hydroxide is a substance that can cause severe damage to skin and eyes and is classified as a dangerous chemical for transportation purposes. He added that it was only due to chance that no person was severely injured during this incident.

Advice for Businesses

This incident has played a fundamental part in highlighting the importance of guidelines and supervision and guidelines for employees working in the logistics industry. Through from stacking and loading pallets to loading dangerous substances, training should always be of paramount importance.

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