Imperial College London has been fined £70,000 following the death of a lab researcher.

On 23rd October 2011, Damien Bowen, 32, was asphyxiated at St Stephens Centre Laboratory, on Fulham Road, after decanting liquid nitrogen alone in a non-ventilated room. The centre, which is owned by Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust, had had its extraction system switched off.

Southwark Crown Court concluded that the death of Mr Bowen could have been prevented had extraction and ventilation equipment been switched on.

While the College did not employ Mr Bowen, it owned the liquid nitrogen, and was undertaking work for the International Aids Vaccine Institute within the laboratory suite.

Mr Bowen, who was conducting research into HIV, was employed by Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust. He had stayed late to finish freezing blood samples on the night of his death.

The court found that the College had breached the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. The College was fined £70,000, and ordered to pay costs of £23,069.19. Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust was also fined £80,000, and ordered to pay £23,069.19 in costs.

Judge Michael Grieve QC said that the College “accepted that the risk assessment was insufficient, and not suitable to ensure ventilation was on.”

When liquid nitrogen is removed from its container, it will evaporate, and force oxygen from the room. HSE inspector Anne Gloor said, following the hearing, “there should have been a system in place to prevent the extraction being switched off, a proper system of maintaining the equipment, and clear arrangements for preventing lone working with liquid nitrogen.”

In a statement, a representative from the College said: “We would like to offer our sincere condolences to Mr Bowen’s family and friends following this tragedy. Imperial takes the safety of its community and those who work closely with it extremely seriously.”

“Although the Court did not suggest that the College had caused Mr Bowen’s death, the College has taken a number of actions following October 2011. In particular we have updated and revised related policies and procedures and developed strengthened management arrangements for buildings shared with the Trust.”