Explosion at plant in Berkshire left worker with burns to face and arm…
The Atomic Weapons Establishment PLC (AWE PLC) is facing a bill of more than £280,000 in fines and costs after a series of safety protocols were breached related to the storage and use of explosives. The safety oversights led to a fire breaking out at a processing building in Berkshire in August 2010 that inflicted severe burns to the face and arm of an employee.
Reading Crown Court was told that the injured man was using chemicals to make a lacquer on the day of the incident, and after removing his mask to check on the mixture, it ignited into a fireball that burnt his face and left arm, and quickly spread across the premises.
The subsequent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into the explosion discovered that AWE PLC were negligent in terms of implementing safety protocols in the workplace relating to the use of hazardous chemicals. The company had data sheets identifying the dangerous chemicals but didn’t introduce the necessary safeguards when using them. The investigation also found that some explosives were not stored in a secure manner and that work practices involving explosions were occurring at the same time at the plant, thereby increasing the risk of an accident.
The company was fined £200,000, ordered to pay £80,258 in prosecutions costs and an additional £2,500 in compensation to the injured man, after admitting their guilt in breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
HSE inspector Dave Norman spoke after the hearing:
“The fire could have caused multiple casualties and it was entirely preventable had better control systems been in place.
“The failure to instigate such controls was dependent on AWE identifying potential hazards and risks, all of which were well documented, but that simply did not happen.
“The building and equipment within it did not comply with the-then current standards required for storing and handling explosives, which are potentially sensitive to static electricity, nor for storing and handling extremely flammable liquids.
“The risks associated with the lacquer preparation were not fully recognised by the company. This was compounded by a decision to run numerous explosives processes at the same time and in the same building, which is completely unacceptable by industry standards.
“We also found that the personal protective equipment (PPE) provided for employees, principally a lack of flame retardant coveralls, was inadequate.
“This collection of shortcomings demonstrates that there were failures of supervision, monitoring and auditing over time, including in relation to the conducting, validating and approval of risk assessments.
“Companies working with hazardous substances must take extreme care at all times and in all aspects of their operations.”
Author: Julian Roberts
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