HSE probes Boden’s-owned wood flour mill explosion

The cause of explosions last Friday (July 17) at the Cheshire wood flour mill owned by a subsidiary of wood recycling firm Boden’s are being investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Fire services tackling the incident at the Bosley wood flour mill near Macclesfield (photo: Cheshire Fire and Rescue)
Fire services tackling the incident at the Bosley wood flour mill near Macclesfield (photo: Cheshire Fire and Rescue)
Fire services tackling the incident at the Bosley wood flour mill near Macclesfield (photo: Cheshire Fire and Rescue)

A total of 15 fire engines as well as police and ambulance services were in attendance at the scene on Tunstall Road in Bosley after two blasts on Friday morning which caused the collapse of a four storey building on the site and damage to some local houses.

The incident at the wood flour mill, operated by Wood Treatment Ltd, has left four people unaccounted for – named as 51-year-old William Barks; Dorothy Bailey, aged 62; 38-year-old Jason Shingler and; 62-year-old Derek Moore.

One body has been found in the search for the missing workers, but has “not been positively identified”, according to Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service. Six fire engines and three crews remain at the site this morning (July 20).

Some local families also had to be relocated to emergency accommodation, while Cheshire East council said 50 local people’s jobs have been lost “as a result of the destruction of this factory”.

HSE said it has been supporting emergency services at the site, providing advice on the presence of asbestos and LPG tanks, while HSE inspectors are also investigating the incident in collaboration with other agencies.

“The thoughts of everyone at HSE are with those affected by this incident”, HSE said in a statement.

Recycling

Council planning documents describe the Bosley site as a wood recycling facility, but it is unclear whether any fatalities at Wood Treatment Ltd will be counted towards HSE waste and recycling sector accident figures or be recorded instead as within the manufacturing sector.

The search for missing continues in teh aftermath of the Bosley wood flour mill explosions (photo: Cheshire Fire and Rescue)
The search for missing people continues in the aftermath of the Bosley wood flour mill explosions (photo: Cheshire Fire and Rescue)

A producer of wood flour since the 1930s, WTL International went into administration in May 2008, and press reports at the time explain that the firm was bought by wood recycling firm Boden & Davies with funding assistance from the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The company is now known as Wood Treatment Ltd and Boden’s website describes Wood Treatment Ltd as the ‘sole manufacturer’ of wood flour in the UK. It says the product is used in a wide variety of products and processes including ‘plastics, rendering, bulking ‘and for diverse uses such as polishing shire horses and show pigs’.

There is mention of the plant in a past fire safety case study produced by SMART Fire Training. The case study notes: “WTL International is the UK’s leading processor of organic materials and natural residues for a wide range of products. Its industrial-scale grinding and milling factory in Cheshire represents a particular fire hazard because of the vast quantities of wood flour and other powdered materials it produces.”

The site also produces Smartcat wood pellet cat litter, which is described as an ‘environmentally friendly alternative to mineral, clay and silica based litters’.

Originally founded as Boden and Davies in the 1950s, Boden’s Group collects and processes waste wood to produce animal bedding, pet products and biomass wood fuel.

Proposed biomass plant

A planning application lodged by consultancy Oaktree Environmental on behalf of Wood Treatment Ltd for the construction of a combined heat and power (CHP) biomass facility was approved by Cheshire East council in June 2014. The document describes Bosley site as a wood recycling facility.

The proposed 4.8MW Bosley CHP plant would have had the capacity to process 45,000 tonnes per year of waste wood to produce energy for the equivalent of more than 11,000 households.

According to the documents, the waste wood would have been sourced from the WTL operations on the site as well as from a ‘sister plant in Wigan’.

Neither Boden’s or Wood Treatment Ltd could be reached for comment.

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