Page last updated at 16:16 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009 17:16 UK

Fatal factory blast 'avoidable'

Stockline factory
Nine people were killed and 33 injured in the explosion in 2004

The explosion at the Stockline plastics factory in Glasgow was an "avoidable disaster", according to a public inquiry into the tragedy.

Nine people died and 33 were injured when the premises, operated by ICL Plastics, collapsed on 11 May, 2004.

A report compiled by senior judge Lord Gill said there could be no doubt as to the cause of the blast.

He said a pipe carrying liquid petroleum gas into the factory was "out of sight and out of mind".

Lord Gill also criticised the two companies, ICL Plastics and ICL Tech, for lacking knowledge and understanding of the gas.

Families affected by the tragedy welcomed the findings of the report and called on the Health and Safety Executive to accept that "soft touch regulation" does not work.

The report identified serious weaknesses in the health and safety legislation and a lack of effective communication between government agencies, suppliers and users of the gas.

Rosemary Doyle and Kirsteen Curry, who lost relatives, said someone should be held responsible

It was also critical of the Health and Safety Executive for failing to appreciate the significance of buried pipework and failing to pursue follow-up visits.

In his report summary, Lord Gill said: "Nearly five years after the explosion HSE has not produced a coherent action plan to deal with underground metallic pipework and the risk of a recurrence.

"While the probability of another explosion may be low, the consequences of a similar event, should it occur, may be catastrophic."

He went on to make a series of recommendations which "seek to establish a modern liquid petroleum gas safety regime to minimise the risk that such an event will recur."

A statement from relatives of Annette Doyle, Kenneth Murray, Thomas McAuley, Tracey McErlane and Anne Trench said: "Our lives changed forever on that day."

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"Grandchildren, nephews and nieces have been born, children have grown up and gone to school, and sadly other family members have passed away without knowing what caused the deaths of those dear to them."

The families said that while they believed the truth had come out on the cause of the explosion, they were concerned the inquiry did not examine the wider health and safety failings that could have led to an unhealthy safety culture at ICL.

The statement continued: "The time has come for the HSE to accept that soft-touch regulation does not work and that workers throughout the UK, whether they work with LPG or not, should have confidence that health and safety regulators have employers quaking in their boots."

Following the publication of the report the government at Westminster has announced that further changes will be made to strengthen the safety regime for LPG bulk installation.

After meeting with some of the families affected, Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy said: "What is clear from the report is that this disaster could and should have been avoided.

"It lays out a litany of failings and it is imperative that we take on board Lord Gill's recommendations for a better and more effective safety regime surrounding LPG installations to ensure an unnecessary and preventable fatal incident such as this never happens again."

The ICL companies wish to express profound sadness and apologise for their omissions and the shortcomings of those who were responsible for the health and safety of the employees
ICL statement

He added: "The UK Government fully accepts those recommendations, and will provide a full response to the report in January.

"Our main aim must be to see the introduction of a safety regime around LPG systems which is transparent, workable and enforceable."

A statement issued on behalf of ICL Plastics Ltd and ICL Tech Ltd said: "The inquiry's analysis of the essential facts and crucial expert knowledge provides much needed answers and recommendations which will have an important bearing on the future.

"Lord Gill makes observations on all those who played a part in the mistakes that led to the explosion. "The ICL companies wish to express profound sadness and apologise for their omissions and the shortcomings of those who were responsible for the health and safety of the employees.

It added: "It is the families and injured who remain in our thoughts, and our sincere hope is that the inquiry and its recommendations help to fulfil their wishes."

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "A key message of the report is that this was an avoidable disaster and that its causes are clear.

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Stockline Plastics building in Glasgow; first broadcast 11th May 2004

"I understand that the secretary of state for work and pensions is asking HSE to carry out a full assessment of the implications of Lord Gill's recommendations and we will support and co-operate with that work to ensure that the necessary improvements to the LPG safety regime can be made.

"I am confident that the cross border co-operation that has taken place so successfully in this matter will continue in the next stages of dealing with the recommendations."

Responding to the inquiry report, HSE's Chief Executive Geoffrey Podger said: "HSE has already done a great deal since the accident at ICL Plastics, especially in preparing for a comprehensive programme by the UK LPG suppliers for buried metal pipe work to be replaced with newer and more robust plastic pipes.

"This will be taken forward with the added benefit of Lord Gill's report."

Safety breaches

Speaking ahead of the publication, Ian Tasker, STUC assistant secretary and a representative for some of the bereaved families, said: "This marks the culmination of five long years in the families' quest for answers as to what caused the tragedy and how it was allowed to happen."

The explosion at the plastics factory at Woodside in Glasgow reduced the four-storey Victorian building to a mound of rubble.

Rescuers tunnelling into the wreckage brought seven people out alive but nine others died.

It was Scotland's worst industrial accident for a decade.

In 2007, ICL Plastics and ICL Tech were fined a total of £400,000 for breaching health and safety laws.

The public inquiry was held at the Maryhill Community Hall, close to the site of the factory.

Lord Gill heard from survivors of the explosion, bereaved relatives and company bosses, as well as gas and engineering experts.

The inquiry, which was held over two sessions in July and October last year, was told that the damaged pipework would have cost about £400 to replace.



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