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September 8, 2010

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Factory didn’t recognise explosion risks in workshop

A worker suffered serious burns after being set alight during an explosion at an industrial bakeware manufacturer’s factory in Nottinghamshire.

On 16 December 2008, a 33-year-old welder was using a plasma cutter to cut parts during the refurbishment of an oven in the workshop area of Fluorocarbon Bakeware Systems Ltd’s site in Beeston, Nottingham.

A can of thinner, which is used to thin paint during the refurbishment process, had been left in the workshop and when the welder began using the plasma cutter a spark ignited the vapours from the can and caused the canister to explode. The worker was showered with the burning liquid and sustained 60-percent-burns. A colleague rushed to his aid and used a fire extinguisher to put out the flames on his body.

The HSE’s investigation found that the provision for storage of thinners was not adequate and no risk assessment had been carried out for the activities carried out in the maintenance workshop. There was a welding bay, in which no flammables were present, where the plasma cutting should have been carried out. However, welding was routinely undertaken outside of the bay, and a propane heater was also used to heat the workshop, which provided a secondary possible source of ignition.

HSE inspector Sian Tiernan explained that there was a real need for proper storage of the flammables in the workshop, and this should have been provided as soon as they were purchased.

She said: “This incident was entirely preventable had simple precautions been taken. This must have been a terrifying incident for the worker, and it was only by chance that his colleague had left the work area a few moments earlier, otherwise he too could have been injured.

“HSE’s investigation showed that there was little in the way of direct supervision of the work and no risk assessment was undertaken for the activities carried out in the workshop.

“Thinner is highly flammable and a risk assessment should have shown how it should have been stored safety. No appropriate store was provided for the thinners and the designated storage area was too close to the work area, with terrible results.”

Fluorocarbon Bakeware Systems appeared at Nottingham Magistrates’ Court on 2 September and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 5(1) and 6(1) of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002, for not carrying out a suitable risk assessmentand failing to take adequate steps to remove the risk of an explosion. It was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £5227 in costs.

In May, the company was fined £10,000 after a builder suffered spinal damage when he fell through a rooflight and landed on machinery at Fluorocarbon’s factory in Hertfordshire. It pleaded guilty to breaching reg.4(1)(a) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, for failing to appoint a competent contractor.

In relation to the latest incident, the company was unable to provide a comment by the time SHP went to press.

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