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Worker badly burned after firm ignores safety risks

Date:
14 August 2014

A West Yorkshire company has been fined after a worker was severely burned in a flashover during hot-cutting work at the Fox’s Biscuits factory in Batley.

The 61-year-old Ossett man was one of a team working for steel fabricators Hartwell Manufacturing Ltd, which had been hired to remove three disused oil tanks at the Fox’s site in Wellington Street in February 2012.

The worker was using an angle grinder to cut a hole in one of the tanks, which had only recently been drained of fuel, when sparks ignited flammable vapours causing flames to erupt.

In a panic, the worker inserted a high pressure water lance into a pipe opening to try to put out the fire but instead caused a blow-back of flames to be ejected from the opening, engulfing his lower body in flames.

Huddersfield Magistrates heard (12 Aug) that another worker at the scene rushed to the injured man’s aid, putting out his burning clothes with a fire extinguisher. He suffered extensive burns and needed prolonged treatment and rehabilitation.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated and prosecuted Hartwell Manufacturing Ltd for safety breaches after discovering the firm had deviated from a safe system of work it had earlier agreed with Fox’s Biscuits and their site managing firm.  Instead of using cold-cutting equipment, the company had used a high-speed angle grinder, which produces heat and sparks.

HSE also found that the whole job of removing the huge tanks, in particular the means of access into the oil tanks and working in a confined space, had not been properly planned by Hartwells. In addition its emergency arrangements to evacuate any casualties on site were fundamentally flawed.

The court was told the company’s managing director had failed to liaise with Fox’s Biscuits when problems with access to the tanks emerged or when the company wanted to diverge from the agreed plan by using the hot-cutting, and thereby dangerous, angle grinder.

Hartwell Manufacturing Ltd, of Milner Way, Ossett, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £7,885 in full costs after admitting breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

After the hearing, HSE Inspector John Micklethwaite said:

“This worker suffered exceedingly painful burn injuries that could have been avoided if Hartwell Manufacturing had followed a safe system of work and not used the angle grinder.  The company used a dangerous working practice on the site unbeknown to Fox’s Biscuits.

“Work with flammable vapours must always be effectively controlled. If problems are encountered, you need to stop and reassess – not press on and use unsafe equipment which introduces an unacceptable risk of fire and explosion.

“The job should have been better planned and supervised. At several key points Hartwells failed to take the opportunity to stop the job, take stock and liaise with the occupier to ensure work could go ahead safely.”

Notes to Editors:

  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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