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July 26, 2009

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Firm given GBP 733k penalty after second double fatality

A metal-treatment company must pay a total fine and costs of £733,000 following the death of two workers at its manufacturing plant in Hereford.

Worcester Crown Court heard that a works manager and a maintenance manager died of asphyxiation at a plant operated by Bodycote HIP Ltd on 14 June 2004. Stuart Jordan, 50, and Richard Clarkson, 29, were found unconscious on stairs leading to a concrete-lined pit after argon gas had leaked from a large pressure vessel. The pit’s oxygen alarm system had been silenced after a number of false alarms at the site. The ventilation system was also not in operation after the machine had lost power during a power cut, which occurred a month prior to the incident, and had not been switched back on.

The pit was used to remove porosity from metal components using a method called hot isostatic pressing. On the day before the incident there was not enough argon gas to complete the process, so the operation was stopped. Overnight the gas leaked out of the pressure vessel and when the workmen entered the pit the next day they lost consciousness after breathing in the gas fumes.

Bodycote HIP Ltd appeared in court on 24 July and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974. The firm was fined £533,000 and ordered to pay £200,000 in costs.

In mitigation, the company said it had not wholly disregarded health and safety at the site and had a number of protective measures in place. It has subsequently re-trained staff to ensure they correctly follow the safe system of work, including carrying oxygen monitors when working in confined spaces. It has also removed the inhibit button from the alarm system, so that the alarm can’t be silenced, and a warning light has been installed to alert operators to leaks, in the event that the alarm fails to sound.

The company experienced a similar double fatality at its California facility in 2001. HSE inspector Luke Messenger believes the firm should have been aware of the dangers of working in confined spaces. He said: “Both these tragic deaths were not only regrettable but also entirely preventable. The risks from confined spaces and asphyxiation due to the presence of argon were well-known to the company, which had experience of a similar double fatality.

“Despite this warning the company failed to undertake a proper risk assessment for entry into the confined space. Although they had implemented a safe system of work and permit-to-work procedure, they had not properly trained employees in their use, or ensured that these systems and procedures were being followed through their auditing procedure.”

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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