First Milk fined £56k for cheese factory blast

National dairy firm First Milk Cheese Company has been ordered to pay more than £56,000 following a major explosion at its cheese factory in Cumbria.

The boiler house at Aspatria Creamery, in Aspatria, was partially destroyed in the blast on 29 July 2010, which threw debris more than 100m across the site.

No-one was injured in the incident despite the force of the explosion lifting the roof off the building and blowing out part of two ground floor walls.

The First Milk Cheese Company Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found a blocked vent on the calorifier – a water heating and storage system – had caused it to explode.

Carlisle Magistrates’ Court heard on Wednesday (15 August) that the calorifier could hold up to 9,000 litres of water and was used to produce hot water for washing down the dairy.

Maintenance engineers at the plant had been manually controlling the steam supply valve to the calorifier after the automatic control broke down.

The HSE investigation found the vent pipe on the tank, which should have allowed water to escape if it became too hot, had become completely blocked with calcium carbonate – possibly over several years.

This meant the pressure inside the tank continued to rise, with the temperature of the water reaching almost 150C, before it eventually caused an explosion.

The Wrexham firm pleaded guilty to a breach of the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000 by failing to ensure the vent pipe on the calorifier was kept clear.

First Milk Cheese Company was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £36,064 in prosecution costs.

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