The 61 year-old man from Ossett, West Yorkshire, was one of a team working for Hartwell Manufacturing Ltd. The company had been hired to remove three disused oil tanks at the Fox’s site in Wellington Street, Batley, in February 2012.
The worker was using an angle grinder to cut a hole in one of the tanks, which had only recently been drained of fuel, when sparks ignited flammable vapours causing flames to erupt.
In a panic, the worker inserted a high pressure water lance into a pipe opening to try to put out the fire. But instead he caused a blow-back of flames to be ejected from the opening, engulfing his lower body in flames.
Huddersfield magistrates heard today (August 12) that another worker at the scene rushed to the injured man’s aid, putting out his burning clothes with a fire extinguisher. He suffered extensive burns and needed prolonged treatment and rehabilitation, but has since returned to light duty work.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the incident. It then prosecuted Hartwell Manufacturing for safety breaches after discovering the firm had ignored a safe system of work it had earlier agreed with Fox’s Biscuits and their site managing firm.
Instead of using cold-cutting equipment, the company had brought in a high-speed angle grinder, which produces heat and sparks, and claimed later it was ‘an oversight’.
The HSE also found that the whole job of removing the huge tanks, in particular the means of access into the oil tanks and working in a confined space, had not been properly planned by Hartwells. In addition, its emergency arrangements to evacuate any casualties on site were fundamentally flawed, the HSE claimed.
The court was told the company’s md had failed to liaise with Fox’s, part of 2 Sisters Food Group, when problems with access to the tanks emerged. It had also not told Fox’s when the company wanted to diverge from the agreed plan by using the hot-cutting, and thereby dangerous, angle grinder, magistrates heard.
Hartwell Manufacturing Ltd, of Milner Way, Ossett, was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £7,885 in full costs after admitting breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
‘Kept Fox’s Biscuits in the dark’
“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,” HSE inspector John Micklethwaite said after the hearing. “The company kept Fox’s Biscuits in the dark and effectively smuggled a dangerous working practice on to the site.
“Work with flammable vapours must always be effectively controlled. If problems are encountered, you need to stop and reassess – not press on and use unsafe equipment which introduces an unacceptable risk of fire and explosion.
“The job should have been better planned and supervised. At several key points Hartwells failed to take the opportunity to stop the job, take stock and liaise with the occupier to ensure work could go ahead safely.”