Steam causes visibility problems as worker falls into 1500°C waste… An international steel company was fined £500,000 after an employee lost his life when he fell into liquid waste at 1500°C.
The 49-year-old man had been working a night shift at the steel plant in Port Talbot when the incident occurred on 25 April 2006. He fell into the slag waste after covers had been removed while maintenance work was being carried out but they had not been replaced.
Swansea Crown Court heard that the accident victim had more than 30 years of experience working with blast furnaces at the time of the accident. The subsequent investigation of the tragedy by the HSE led to the prosecution of the steel company.
The courts heard that the victim was inspecting a slag pool on the night of the accident. The investigation revealed that dense steam from a granulator made visibility very problematic and caused the man to fall into the open section of a channel that was running slag at extremely high temperatures. He was dragged out of the channel by two workmates who heard him shouting in pain but he died later that day.
The HSE investigation also revealed that a reporting system at the steel company had identified previous incidents where excessive amounts of steam had caused potentially dangerous situations to arise. The fact that the channels running slag were left uncovered without any precautionary measures being taken to prevent people from falling in was also a significant health and safety failing.
The steel company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined £500,000 in addition to costs of £57,487.
HSE Principal Inspector Colin Mew spoke after the hearing:
“The lack of visibility caused by steam and the open runners were a fatal combination which should have been foreseen by the company.
“This horrific incident could have been avoided if the company had a system in place to ensure that either no covers were left off the runners or – if they needed to be left off – a temporary barrier was erected around them.
“The accident victim was an experienced and well respected member of the steel making community in Port Talbot. His courage and quick thinking together with other employees on the occasion of a major explosion on Blast Furnace Number 5 in 2001 almost certainly saved the lives of a number of his colleagues making his death particularly poignant and tragic.”