Steel Company Fined Over Contractor Burns Injury

HSE Prosecution Follows Biscuit Factory Incident


A company has been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after a worker suffered serious burn injuries in an accident at a biscuit factory.

The incident occurred at the Fox's plant in Batley, West Yorkshire, when a 61-year-old working for steel fabricating firm Hartwell Manufacturing was involved in an operation to remove three disused oil tanks.

He was using an angle grinder to cut a hole in one of them when a spark from the device ignited oil fumes left behind in the tank.

As a result, flames erupted and the worker tried to put them out by inserting a high-pressure water jet into the hole, but a blow-back of the flames caused his lower body to be burned.

The HSE investigation found that Hartwell Manufacturing had failed to implement a system of safe working it had agreed with Fox's Biscuits and its site management firm before the work began.

Hartwell claimed its introduction of the spark-producing angle grinder instead of cold-cutting equipment was an "oversight".

The investigation found that Hartwell had not properly planned the removal of the large tanks or established a proper system of emergency evacuation in the event of an accident. It did not liaise with Fox's when problems emerged with the tanks, nor when it decided to ignore the original plan by introducing the angle grinder.

In the hearing at Huddersfield Magistrates' Court, Hartwell Manufacturing admitted a charge of breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was fined £10,000 with full costs of £7,885.

Commenting on the case, HSE inspector John Micklethwaite remarked: “This worker suffered exceedingly painful burn injuries that could have been avoided if Hartwell Manufacturing had followed a safe system of work and not used the angle grinder.

"The company kept Fox's Biscuits in the dark and effectively smuggled a dangerous working practice onto the site."

He added that companies faced with the possibility of encountering dangerous, flammable vapours should stop and rethink their approach, instead of carrying on with risky practices.

Expert Opinion
Employers have a duty to ensure work carried out by employees is done in a safe manner through the undertaking of risk assessments and the implementation of any necessary health and safety measures in order to protect workers and contractors. In this instance, a worker suffered severe burns as a safe system of work was not put in place.

“It is vital lessons are learnt by employers following this successful Health and Safety Executive prosecution and action is taken to protect workers encountering flammable liquids and vapour from such an incident in the future.”
Stephen Nye, Partner