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Tata in court after worker’s serious burns

Date:
21 July 2014

Tata Steel UK has been fined for safety failings after a worker received serious burns in a rush of hot gas at its plant in Scunthorpe.

Contract labourer Gary Jeans, 29, from Winteringham, was working with a colleague at the coke ovens in Dawes Lane on 10 October 2012. He had climbed up to a walkway above the oven top and was trying to unstick a valve needed for charging the oven by applying pressure with his foot onto the valve counterbalance.

However, his colleague, who was out of sight below started to charge the oven sending a rush of hot gas out of the top of the gas pipe toward him.

Mr Jeans suffered serious burns to his face, left arm and back and was unable to work several months.  He has since recovered and is back at work.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated and prosecuted Tata Steel UK at Scunthorpe Magistrates’ Court for a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

The court was told there had been a recognised issue of valves sticking and other operating problems of the coke ovens due to their age. A number of unapproved working practices had developed over time to get round operating problems such as the task Mr Jeans was attempting.

HSE found that Tata Steel had let the unapproved working practices go unchecked and had failed to recognise that they needed either stamping out as poor practice or regularising if approved.

The investigation identified that there was insufficient training and supervision for Mr Jeans and in just a few weeks, he had picked up some of the poor practices that had become customary on site. In addition, there was no safe system in place to ensure that the operator charging the oven only did so when he knew where the other man was.

The case, which was heard on 10 July, was adjourned for written sentencing by District Judge Daniel Curtis.

In his sentencing, received today (21 July) by HSE, the court fined Tata Steel UK Ltd, registered at Millbank, London, £10,000, and ordered the company to pay £2,384 in costs after admitting the safety breach.

In his sentencing note, the district judge commented :

“It remains unclear how this patently dangerous and unauthorised practice grew at the Dawes Lane Coke Ovens, but what is clear is that it was able to do so and persist and I have to regard that management failure as significant.”

HSE Inspector Steven Kay said:

“This case underlines the need for managers to familiarise themselves with working practices, and to make it part of their job to understand difficulties their employees are facing carrying out their work.

“They need to take the responsibility for resolving those difficulties, not leave it to the employees to devise their own ways of keeping things running.

“Tata Steel is a large company with high risks and ageing plant; it needs to work very hard to keep on top of safety on its site. It needs to work harder to continue to make improvements.”

Notes to Editors:

Photo: View of the Dawes Lane Coke Oven battery top with the charging car in the background and the bank of gas main collection pipes on the left hand side. Mr Jeans was at the top of this bank of pipes when hot gas and flame was ejected.

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
  2. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.”

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