One construction worker was killed and another seriously injured in an explosion Wednesday at a data center construction site north of London. The blast at the Hertfordshire Data Centre on the Mundells Industrial Estate was described by fire officials as a “large scale incident,” which investigators say was caused by a cylinder of argonite, an inert gas used in data center fire suppression systems.
The body of one worker was found during a search of the building. One worker is reported in critical condition at Queen Elizabeth 2 Hospital, where another is in serious condition. Five other workers were treated for lesser injuries and released.
Jon Smith, Group Commander of Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue, told the Daily Mail that the explosion caused “widespread damage” to the building. “The external structure is intact, but 50 per cent of the internal structure has been affected,” Smith said. “Walls are down, floors are up and walls knocked out. These cylinders have become missiles and fired around randomly.”
Welwyn Garden City Red Watch commander Paul Enever said the scene inside the Hertfordshire Data Centre was “complete devastation.” Enever said the 80kg cylinder of Argonite would have bounced around the room hitting anything in its path. “We don’t know the details yet but they had been using the cylinders and there has been an accident,” he told the Daily Mail. “It’s resulted in one or a number of the cylinders releasing their gas under high pressure.”
The building is being built by Crown House Data Solutions, a unit of construction firm Laing O’Rourke. A spokesman for the UK Health and Safety Executive told the BBC the site had been run by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, but was being renovated.
“It’s with regret that Laing O’Rourke confirms that an employee was killed and a further seven injured in an incident yesterday at its construction project site in WGC,” a company spokesman told the Welwyn & Hatfield Times. “Of the injured employees two remain in a serious but stable condition and have been retained in hospital. The others have all been treated and discharged. Laing O’Rourke is providing support and counselling to the family of the deceased.” The name of the worker has not yet been released.
“This is a tragic event and our thoughts are with the family of our colleague who has tragically lost his life and with those who have been injured,” said Liam Cummins, managing director of Crown House. “I would also like to pay tribute to the emergency services who displayed exemplary professionalism in dealing with this incident.”