TWO workers suffered breathing problems after an explosion at Royal Bolton Hospital’s clinical waste incinerator.

Firefighters were called to the hospital at 9.40pm last night and they said the force of the blast was so strong they heard it from Farnworth fire station – a mile-and-a-half away in Albert Road.

A large amount of smoke poured out of the incinerator after the incident, but both the company that operates it and the fire service say it is non-toxic.

The two staff who monitor the facility suffered from breathing the smoke, but did not need treatment. 

Fire chiefs said they were very fortunate to escape injury.

Crew commander Mark Outhwaite said: “It all came down to sheer luck in that they were standing in one place.

“Had they been any nearer to the incinerator, it could have been a different story.”

Crew commander Outhwaite added: “There was debris from the incinerator everywhere and the two men were covered in it.

“They keep a wheelbarrow beneath it to collect soot and it was crushed by the force of the explosion.

“Had the workers been near it, we would be dealing with fatalities.”

After the incident, the incinerator was shut down and a safety procedure was activated, hospital bosses said.

An investigation has now been launched.

It is understood the incinerator takes 36 hours to cool down and it would be hard to begin the probe until then.

“The workers said that they do see some small bangs sometimes, perhaps from asthma inhalers, but they have never seen anything that loud before,” said crew commander Outhwaite.

He added: “Our role was to check the pipework had not been affected and make sure the area was safe.”

The incinerator turns hospital waste into steam which heats parts of the hospital.

Heather Edwards, the hospital's head of communications,  said: “A large bang from the incinerator was heard across the site and the incinerator was put into emergency shutdown.

"A large amount of black smoke came from the chimney as a result, but both the operators of the incinerator, SRCL, and the fire brigade who attended, deemed this was not toxic.

"No-one was hurt and SRCL will now be reviewing the situation.”