A CHEMICAL manufacturer has been fined £12,000 after a nitric acid gas leak left a member of staff from a neighbouring company needing hospital treatment.

Airedale Chemical Company Ltd, based at Airedale Mills, Cross Hills, near Keighley, had already pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety guidelines prior to yesterday's hearing at Bradford and Keighley Magistrates' Court.

The leak caused injuries to Keith Mortimer, a former employee of Joda Freight, based on Station Road, and was said to be one of the reasons he was forced to cut back on his work as a mechanic and take early retirement.

Caroline Skingle, prosecuting on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive, told the court that on April 24 last year, a tanker arrived at Airedale Mills to transfer nitric acid via a hose into a storage tank on the site.

The transfer, which she said was supposed to take about 90 minutes, was completed in 40 minutes, causing a build-up of pressure that "overwhelmed" the system.

She said the leak had caused a number of employees working at the Joda Freight site to take refuge in one of the company's workshops, complaining of "burning eyes and stinging skin."

Mr Mortimer had been working on a ladder near the pipe where the gas escaped, and suffered a delayed reaction to being exposed to the acid, being admitted to hospital the following day.

Miss Skingle said: "The company should have been aware that the system could become overwhelmed.

"The tanker driver received insufficient training and supervision, posing a significant risk to Joda Freight employees."

Richard Clark, on behalf of the company, said the same system had previously been used for approximately 100 deliveries without a problem, adding that the driver had discharged the gas too quickly.

He said the company had taken steps to rectify the problem immediately, including installing new equipment and moving the storage tank to a different site.

"My client expresses full and genuine remorse," he said. "This was not a case of widespread systemic failure."

Sentencing the firm, District Judge Susan Bouch said: "This is a particularly hazardous substance which demands a high level of control.

"I have taken into account the harm caused to Mr Mortimer and other employees at the neighbouring business.

"I am satisfied this was a negligent rather than deliberate act."

The company was also ordered to pay £3,318.80 in costs, and a £120 surcharge.