A worker at one of the UK’s leading manufacturers of smokeless fuel briquettes suffered severe burns when he was showered with hot coals at its South Wales plant.
Carl Lewis required skin grafts for severe burns to his back, legs and hands when the coals sprayed out of an inspection hatch on a briquette-production tower at Maxibrite Ltd in Llantrisant, Pontypridd magistrates heard. A colleague, Simon Gilbody, also suffers minor burns to his chest, neck and face in the incident, but escaped without serious injury.
The court heard that works manager Mr Gilbody was attempting to extinguish a fire inside the industrial rotary drier tower when the incident happened on 16 December 2012. After several attempts to extinguish the fire by hosing the tower failed, he decided an inspection hatch at the bottom should be opened to remove any dust that may have been causing an obstruction. However, when his colleague Mr Lewis opened the hatch, hot cinders sprayed out, burning Mr Gilbody, and as Mr Lewis attempted to close the hatch, he was himself engulfed in hot coals. He showered for 30 minutes to help remove the hot material and ease his burns and was then taken to hospital.
The Health and Safety Executive found that Maxibrite had not carried out a suitable risk assessment for the safe operation of the rotary drier and had failed to provide a safe method of work for the process. The information, instruction and training for workers operating the equipment was also inadequate, and there were shortcomings in the fire safety procedures for the operation of the drier.
Maxibrite Ltd, which is a part of Hargreaves Services plc based in Durham, was fined a total of £20,000 and ordered to pay £5,115 in costs after pleading guilty to a breach of section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and a breach of regulation 3(1)(a) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
Speaking after the hearing, investigating HSE Inspector Steve Lewis said the two workers were fortunate not to have been more seriously injured or even killed in the incident. “The drying process at the plant involved intensive heat so the risks of fire should have been obvious," he said. "There had been a fire at the plant previously involving a similar drying process.
“Employers must make sure they have proper plans for dealing with emergency situations and that workers are trained to know what to do when something like a fire breaks out.”
A spokesman for Hargreaves Services said that, following the incident, Maxibrite had co-operated fully with HSE and “rapidly implemented the improvements required... to their [HSE's] satisfaction”.
He added: “Our company makes strenuous efforts to keep our colleagues, contractors, site visitors and the public safe at our sites.
“Accidents at our plants are thankfully very rare but even one accident is one too many.”
Further information on fire safety can be found on the HSE website at www.hse.gov.uk/toolbox/fire.htm
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