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September 3, 2008

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BAE Systems to pay GBP 70K for failing to follow up procedures

The munitions manufacturing arm of global defence and aerospace company BAE Systems was fined a total of £50,000 and ordered to pay a contribution to costs of £15,000 at Cardiff Crown Court, after a worker was severely burned at its site in Glascoed, Monmouthshire, the biggest munitions manufacturing site in the UK.

BAE Systems Land Systems was also ordered to pay £5000 in compensation to a young agency operative, Ryan White, after he suffered severe burns.

The court heard that on 12 August 2004, Mr White had been helping in the disposal of pyrotechnic composition — unwanted munitions — in an area known as the ‘burning ground’.

Although the company had set up a written methodology for the correct disposal of the material — an igniter composition used in medium-calibre munitions classed as very sensitive — a new method had been introduced earlier that year, according to HSE investigating inspector David Norman. He explained that the material in question was a lot more powerful than that used in fireworks.

“The composition had been made incorrectly, and the wrong ingredients used,” the inspector told SHP. “The material is normally placed under oil prior to burning, a process known as desensitisation, but this procedure had not happened. Workers had tried to ignite the composition when it was dry, and in a quantity far greater than that allowed by the procedure, causing a massive fireball instead of a gradual burn. Mr White suffered severe burns to his face, neck and arms. The fireball was exacerbated because ash from a previous ‘burn’ had not been cleaned out and was still hot, so that when the composition was poured on it, it exploded.”

In mitigation, the company said the incident had been the fault of the operative, and that it had put in place policies and training but they had not been followed. It has since spent £1.25m on improving the site and putting in proper personal protective equipment, reviewed all its procedures, and restructured its management system so that such an incident could not happen again.

However, the inspector said the company had not monitored the system or made sure training was being done properly, or that workers were following instructions. “There was a lack of management and supervision,” he stated.

“Training consisted of shadowing a senior operative and reading the procedures, but no-one in the management chain ensured that this company policy was followed.”

He asserted: “This was a clear case of a company having written policies and procedures in place but failing to ensure that they were implemented correctly by failing to manage and supervise the system of pyrotechnic composition disposal.”

In conclusion, inspector Norman said: “Overall, the preventive measures taken by the company to ensure the safe disposal of pyrotechnic composition were ineffective. This led to poor communication and misunderstanding within the disposal area even though the risk assessment appeared to be robust on paper.”

BAE Systems was fined £35,000 on 1 September for breaching s2(1) of HSWA by failing to adopt a safe system of work for employees, and £15,000 for a breach of s3(1) of the same Act by failing to ensure the safety of Mr White and other non-employees. It pleaded guilty to both charges.

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