Huddersfield Magistrates’ Court has fined a Cleakheaton based company £10,000 and ordered to pay £1,588 in costs after pleading guilty to a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into an incident in March 2013 where an industrial oven exploded has highlighted significant safety failings.
The HSE told the court that the oven was used as part of a drying process in the manufacture of gasket sheets. The use of flammable paraffin was used in the formation of the sheets and then baked in the industrial oven which reaches temperatures of 360 degrees.
Approximately twelve workers were present on the nightshift when the incident occurred. Following instructions from the previous shift manager, staff moved a pallet of gasket sheets from a drying machine and placed them into the oven using a forklift truck.
The employees were under the impression that the sheets were dry and ready for the transfer into the oven. Unfortunately, this was not the case and semi dry sheets were put into the intensive heat of the oven igniting the flammable vapours.
The court heard that the workers had left the room before the explosion occurred.
The HSE report revealed that the company had a process to ensure the sheets were dry before they were put in the oven but this had failed. Furthermore, the dryer machine had a history of cutting out.
An outsourcing of the drying process in 2009 and restoration to an in-house process in 2012 had caused confusion and interference.
The HSE concluded that the explosion was “an incident waiting to happen”.
After the case was heard, HSE Inspector John Micklethwaite said:
“This was a catastrophic explosion which blew the sinter oven into pieces. Had anyone been in the vicinity, we could have been investigating fatalities and serious injuries.”
“It was an incident that could have, and should have, been avoided. With any such industrial process, the fire and explosion risks must be fully assessed and then controls put in place.”