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Ruling On East Sussex Blast Deaths ‘Emphasises Importance Of Safety’

High Court Decision Support Families’ Call For Compensation


By Rob Dixon

A High Court ruling that families of fire officers killed in an industrial accident at an East Sussex factory should get compensation, demonstrates the wider importance of ensuring workers are prepared and equipped to carry out their jobs safely, according to a workplace injury specialist.

The court gave its backing to the families claims that Geoff Wicker and cameraman Brian Wembridge were ‘ill-prepared and poorly resourced’ by East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS) when they attended the scene of a fire at a fireworks factory in Shortgate in December 2006.

Problems identified by counsel for the families included a lack of training and equipment, as well as radios not functioning correctly.

Twenty other emergency services personnel were injured in the incident, when an explosion sent both fireworks and debris across the Festival Fireworks site. The owners of the company were convicted of manslaughter in relation to the incident, while ESFRS has stated it would consider the judgment carefully over the coming weeks.

David Urpeth, national head of workplace injury at Irwin Mitchell, specialises in providing support to victims and the families of those killed in major industrial accidents. 

He notably acted for 75 workers and residents injured in the 2001 explosion at the Killingholme refinery, one of the largest chemical disasters in the UK. Conoco-Phillips, which owned the plant, was fined £1m for safety failings in relation to the incident.

Commenting on the High Court ruling, he said: “This is an important decision which emphasises how vital it is for all employers to ensure that their workers are given the right support to carry out their jobs in an effective and safe manner.

“As we have seen from our work in such cases, an incident of this magnitude has a huge impact on the local community, colleagues and their families and there will have been much hope that the loved ones of those killed would be able to gain justice over what happened.

“Following this decision, it is imperative that steps are taken to ensure that clear safety lessons can be learned which will prevent others from suffering in the same way as those who died and were injured in this explosion.

“Health and safety must always be a top priority for employers and many people will want reassurances that definitive steps will be taken to ensure the same tragic issues seen in this  case will not be repeated.”

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in relation to Accident at Work claims