Staff return to work after Wigan gas leak drama

An employee resumes work at the Bakkavor plant
An employee resumes work at the Bakkavor plant

Staff were back to work at a Wigan food factory yesterday just hours after an ammonia leak sparked a huge evacuation.

More than 230 people had to be rushed out of the Bakkavor Meals (formerly Hitchen Foods) site in Ince on Tuesday evening, after noxious gas flooded the premises.

A scene from Tuesday night's evacuation after a gas leak

A scene from Tuesday night's evacuation after a gas leak

A large scale operation was launched by emergency services to evacuate the site, with more than two dozen 999 vehicles racing to the scene.

Several staff, fighting for their breath and eyes streaming, were treated at the scene before being taken to Wigan Infirmary as a precaution, police sealed off the area and fire crews in breathing gear led scores of other employees to safety.

Today, the company revealed that the leak had been fixed and that the firm was supporting the stricken staff.

A spokesman said: “The health and safety of our colleagues is our top priority.

“Following an ammonia leak at our Bakkavor Meals site at Wigan on the evening of March 12, the site was evacuated immediately and emergency services called.

“Ten employees sought hospital advice as a precautionary measure and we will continue to support them.

“The cause of the leak was identified and has been fixed, and the factory is back in production.”

Watch manager Glyn McGann from Wigan fire station said: “It was quite a large leak.

“People were suffering the effects of exposure to ammonia and they were still being contaminated in the car park after being evacuated because they were downwind of it.

“We moved them further down to the main road and created a cordon.

“The strong winds helped because whatever gases were discharged were transported away and dissipated pretty fast.

“We monitored the leak to make sure it didn’t get any worse and then once specialist units arrived we accessed the process room where the leak was.

“We started shutting things down and isolating the unit.

“We then monitored it from a safe point.

“It did actually take another re-entry into the room and shutting down more machinery before we stopped the ammonia leaking out of the vent valves and ending up at ground level.

“With a lot of specialist units working on a job there will always be some time taken working together to get things under control but the leak was isolated in the end.”

Emergency services had left the scene by around midnight - six hours after the emergency was first declared.

A spokesman for the Health and Safety Executive said the organisation was aware of the incident.

Ammonia is a colourless, pungent-smelling gas which can have a chronic effect on the eyes and respiratory system. It is sometimes used in the refrigeration process.

This isn’t the first time that the Bakkavor/Hitchen site on the Dobson Park industrial estate has been the subject of a major incident.

Four years ago young Polish worker Jacek Adamowicz was crushed to death by a three-quarter-tonne falling bale of waste.

The parent company was later fined £2m over safety failings.