A LEADING UK fitness firm has been fined £20,000 after toxic chemicals were accidentally fed into a swimming pool.
Four people at the Virgin
• Virgin Active fined £20,000 for breaching safety regulations after chlorine gas leak
• Leak took place in a Virgin Active branch in Edinburgh’s Omni Centre
• Chlorine was used as weapon during First World War
Active gym in Edinburgh were taken to hospital after disinfectant was mixed with another chemical, producing chlorine.
Imposing the fine at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, the judge said it reflected the “very serious” nature of the company’s failure to adequately control hazardous substances at the pool in the Omni Centre complex.
The incident in February 2010 was caused by the accidental mixing of a pool disinfectant, sodium hypochlorite, with polyaluminium chloride, in a maintenance cupboard near the pool.
The City of Edinburgh Council, which is responsible for enforcing health and safety legislation in leisure premises, said that polyaluminium chloride should not have been kept at the pool because of the well-known risks that it posed.
The authority’s environment convener, Lesley Hinds, said: “These failings are totally unacceptable and it is only fair that the fine imposed reflects the severity of circumstances. It is vital that all leisure companies fulfil their responsibilities to provide a safe environment for patrons and staff.”
Sheriff McKinnon said Virgin Active Ltd was responsible for “a very serious breach of the Controls of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations”.
Investigations by the council’s food, health and safety team revealed a number of serious failures in the handling of hazardous chemicals at the gym.
They included not identifying the risk of producing toxic chlorine gas from the inadvertent mixing of polyaluminium chloride with the disinfectant sodium hypochlorite, despite these risks being well-documented.
During the incident, hundreds of gym members, cinema goers and restaurant customers were evacuated from the leisure complex. Four gym staff were taken to hospital as a precaution but none required treatment.
After the gas escape was analysed, two firemen in protective suits entered the building to clean up the chemicals.
Police cordoned off the outside lane of the busy Picardy Place roundabout junction for several hours to accommodate the dozens of emergency service vehicles on standby outside.
Lothian and Borders fire brigade said workmen cleaning the gym’s swimming pool had been decanting liquid from one container to another in a room storing chemicals, resulting in a toxic gas reaction. The incident was investigated and reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service by the council’s food and health and safety team.
A Virgin Active spokesman stressed that the incident occurred in an area that was only accessible to staff.
He added: “We did not meet the high safety standards that we set ourselves and, whilst this was a one-off incident, we have taken measures to ensure that it never happens again.”
Announcing the fine yesterday, the sheriff also confirmed that the figure had been reduced from £30,000 in recognition of the firm’s guilty plea.