Factory worker poisoned by 1080 – nearly dies

A Rolleston-based pest bait manufacturing organisation has been fined $275,000 over an incident in which a worker was poisoned in May 2019 and nearly lost his life.

Pest Control Research Limited Partnership (PCR) manufactures pest control products including baits containing sodium fluoroacetate (more commonly known as 1080) as the toxic active ingredient.

In 2018-2019 PCR was experiencing issues with the ongoing supply of sodium fluoroacetate and set up an internal project codenamed the “Home Brew Project” / “Project X” to manufacture its own supply of the highly toxic substance.

“Health and safety requirements were not met from the very start of this project and cumulatively design, fabrication and process errors ultimately resulted in workers being exposed to highly toxic vapour from a failure in the manufacturing process and in PCR’s overall safety management systems,” Dr Catherine Gardner, Head of Specialist Interventions, said.

“One worker spent four weeks in hospital being treated for fluoroacetate poisoning and a further two months recuperating out of hospital.

His urine fluoroacetate reading was more than 500 times higher than WorkSafe’s Biological Exposure Index limit and he was extremely lucky to survive.”

The incident occurred during the first trial production of sodium fluoroacetate when an unexpected chemical reaction resulted in a loss of containment.

The work was being undertaken inside a purpose built self-contained chemical processing container inside an empty industrial unit in Bromley, Christchurch.

WorkSafe’s investigation into the incident uncovered a series of failings, including:

  • There was no structured hazard and operability study prior to commissioning the operation;
  • PCR did not obtain a peer review of the proposed chemical process, plant, and equipment from a competent person;
  • PCR failed to ensure that there were safe ventilation arrangements for the chemical processing container (including for when it was operating under negative pressure),
  • PCR failed to ensure that a commercial proprietary pressure relief valve was used on the processing container’s reactor;
  • PCR failed to develop, document, implement, and communicate a safe system of work for the operation of the process including detailed operating procedures, automatic data logging, appropriate personal protective equipment, and an emergency response plan.
  • PCR failed to test its chemical process and processing container by ensuring that a trial run was completed with a more benign raw material
  • PCR failed to take any steps to obtain a Hazardous Substances Location Compliance Certificate and did not meet fundamental safety requirements to obtain a compliance certificate (including failing to notify WorkSafe, failing to display any signage on the outside of the Bromley building and inadequate signage on the process container itself, failing to prepare an emergency response plan and a site plan). They had also failed to ensure that a safety data sheet was readily accessible at the site for emergency service workers.

“PCR is experienced in handling and manufacturing hazardous substances but in this case, it would seem that their enthusiasm to create their own active ingredient has over-ridden the legal obligation to ensure their workers were protected. It was an operation they knew was dangerous and could have potentially fatal consequences” said Gardner.

PCR appeared for sentencing in the Christchurch District Court.

  • PCR was fined $275,000.
  • Reparation of $8,177 was ordered (in addition to what the Defendant had already paid voluntarily to the victim).
  • Costs of $96,603.94 were awarded to WorkSafe.

(The Buzz notes, again, the victim received less that the government in the court judment)