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£40k fine after workers take flight in Famous Grouse fire

By Mike Stones , 28-Feb-2013
Last updated the 28-Feb-2013 at 15:50 GMT

The Edrington Group – the maker of Famous Grouse whisky – has been ordered to pay a £40,000 fine, after safety breaches forced two workers to flee a warehouse fire.

The men were filling casks in the warehouse at the distiller’s Great Western Road site when the blaze broke out June 29 2011.

Glasgow Sheriff Court heard the fire started when a jet of whisky hit a light fitting, as casks were being filled with whisky.

The workers were standing on a metal walkway at the top level of the warehouse using flexible hoses to fill the 450-litre casks with whisky pumped from steel vats. One worker felt his hose relax and then heard a whoosh of liquid. A jet of whisky shot towards the ceiling and ignited on contact with a light fitting mounted on the ceiling, engulfing in flame a truck below.

A jet of whisky

At about the same time, the worker’s colleague heard a ‘pop’ and then saw a flame spread across the roof from the light fitting.

Both men ran towards the stairs at the back of the warehouse. They activated the fire alarm as they left, prompting the evacuation of the site.

The court was told thousands of litres of the burning spirit poured down the racked casks and onto the forklift truck for 15 minutes until a pump was shut. A third worker, who saw the fire through a door into the warehouse, described the forklift truck as looking like 'a Christmas pudding once brandy is set alight'.

The blaze activated 70 of the 110 sprinkler heads in the warehouse.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation revealed that the central aisle lights should not have been used in a flammable atmosphere. Also, they should have been identified as an ignition source risk, while the filling equipment was not suitable for use to transfer a hazardous substance such as alcohol at pressure.

‘Disastrous consequences’

Speaking after sentencing, HSE inspector David Stephen said: “This was a major incident that could have had disastrous consequences. The two workers had to run for their lives and were extremely lucky not to have been killed or seriously injured.

“More than 17,500l of whisky were lost during the incident. This volume of flammable liquid could have served as fuel for a significant fire, which would have caused major disruption and damage to the environment.”

Stephen said the blaze could have been prevented if the company had checked the light fittings were suitable for use in a flammable atmosphere and that the equipment used to transfer the alcohol was fit for purpose.

The Edrington Group, Great Western Road, Glasgow, was fined £40,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

A spokesman for Edrington said: ”The company took full responsibility for this incident from the outset and co-operated immediately and fully with both the HSE and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency. Edrington takes the health and safety of its employees extremely seriously.”

The firm said new procedures had been introduced culminating in the introduction of a new filling facility that became operational in October 2011.

“Edrington has an excellent health and safety record and remains committed to continually improving its health and safety systems. In the last five years Edrington has spent approximately £1.5M on health and safety improvements,” it said.

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