A painful electrical flashover at a chemical site may have been prevented with surge protection in one of the site’s control centres.

On July 30th 2012, a 29-year-old electrician was installing a power monitoring module at the site, which is classified as a top-tier hazardous area under the COMAH regulations.

While he was working in the control centre, a decision was taken to drill into the back of it, which in turn triggered an electrical flashover.

The man suffered burns to his face, arms and hands, while the control centre itself had a hole burned into its cubicle backplate.

Surge protection may have helped to prevent the incident, and both the chemical company and the electrical contractor were criticised by the HSE for their failings.

“Both companies failed to provide suitable risk assessments or suitable control measures,” the HSE said.

“Adequate supervision and a safe system of work could have prevented this incident from happening.”

Ironically in this instance, it was the decision to drill into the control centre that caused the incident, rather than an escape of explosive gases or noxious fumes, highlighting that even in hazardous areas, human error can be the cause of injury.