Fuel Tank Firm Fined For Safety Failures

Man Left Paralysed After Being Engulfed By A Fireball

30.10.2013

An airport fuel tank manufacturer has been ordered to pay £91,000 in fines and costs for its role in an accident that left an employee almost completely paralysed.

Preston Crown Court heard how 38-year-old Karol Robaczewski suffered horrific burns as he attempted to clean a 20,000-litre fuel tank.

He had been using a highly flammable solvent to scrub the tank - a practice that Fuel Proof of Heysham, Lancashire had been utilising since 2007.

The incident occurred when Mr Robaczewski noticed the lamp he was using was getting too hot, so he decided to pull the plug. As he did so, a spark created a huge fireball that engulfed the worker, leaving him with severe burns and wheelchair-bound.

Manufacturing plants that contain highly-flammable and explosive fuel tanks are extremely dangerous places to work and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published clear and detailed guidelines for companies to follow.

An investigation by the regulator found Fuel Proof had been flouting the nation's health and safety laws.

The HSE discovered the company had not carried out necessary risk assessments and the workers inside the tank should have been supervised.

Inspectors also confirmed that no system was in place to monitor the fumes inside the tanks and the protective masks and lighting given to employees was unsuitable.

The company pleaded guilty to a charge under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £66,000, with prosecution costs also setting the firm back another £25,000.

HSE inspector Rose Leese-Weller said it was "shocking" that workers were routinely allowed to clean the tanks with a highly-flammable solvent.

"What's even more appalling is that there was never any need for workers to use solvents to clean the tanks, as the company now uses soapy water to clean them out," she commented. 

"Firms should carefully consider whether they actually need to use flammable substances and, if they do, then find a safe way of using them."