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Company in court again after dangerous quarry blast

Date:
27 February 2015

A Somerset company has been fined after a quarry blast sent rocks of up to 15 kilos flying outside a danger zone toward employees and across a public road.

Falling rocks narrowly avoided hitting workers as they landed well outside the designated blast zone at Moons Hill Quarry, Stoke St Michael near Shepton Mallet on 7 February 2012. Rocks also fell onto a public highway, exposing road users to unacceptable danger.

Frome-based WCD Sleeman and Sons Ltd, who organised the blast, were prosecuted today (27 February) after an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) identified serious control failings.

Bristol Crown Court heard that workers acting as sentries outside the danger area were aware of rocks flying above their heads and landing all around them immediately after the blast. Rocks also landed in the processing plant area of the quarry, which is on the other side of a public road.

HSE inspectors discovered that the blast had not been properly planned. Too much explosive was used in an area where the ground was already broken and measures put in place to reduce risks were inadequate.

WCD Sleeman and Sons Ltd,  of Valley View, Vallis Park, Frome, was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The court was told the firm was prosecuted by HSE after investigating a similar offence in Devon when they were fined £20,000 with £17,000 costs in July 2013 at Barnstaple Magistrates’ Court.

 Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Catherine Pickett said:

“This was a very serious incident, which put both members of the public and employees at serious risk of being hit by rocks and could easily have led to death or serious injury.

“Blasting operations at quarries are potentially very dangerous. The risks must be rigorously controlled by good explosives engineering practice and in accordance with legal requirements.

“Quarrying remains one of the most dangerous industries to work in with 3,250 injuries, including 27 fatalities, reported to HSE since 2000.

“This is not the first time WCD Sleeman and Sons have been prosecuted for similar offences that have put people at considerable risk and I hope they take more heed of the lessons to be learned.

“Proper planning and control is required at all times in the quarrying industry. The option of stopping and reevaluating the blasting operation for safety is always available to shotfirers, and in this case would have avoided danger.”

Further information on quarry safety can be found on the HSE website at http://www.hse.gov.uk/quarries/

 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 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”
  3. Details of WCD Sleeman’s previous prosecution are at http://press.hse.gov.uk/2013/rnn-sw-wcd-sleeman-hanson/
  4. HSE news releases are available at: http://press.hse.gov.uk/ .

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Issued on behalf of HSE by the Regional News Network South West & Wales

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