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October 18, 2011

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Worker blown out of building by force of cement-dust blast

A worker at a cement factory in Rugby died after being thrown out of the side of the building in an explosion.

Leamington Spa Crown Court heard that Peter Reynolds, 28, was working for CEMEX UK Operations Ltd when the incident happened on 15 January 2008. He was operating a bypass dust plant machine, which processes hazardous dust created during the manufacturing of cement and turns it into a reacted product that is suitable for landfill.

During this process, the motor in the machine’s lower mixer tripped and Mr Reynolds asked the control room to isolate the machine so he could investigate the problem. He found a blockage in the machine and while he was clearing it there was an explosion of steam and dust inside the machine, which was so strong it blew Mr Reynolds through the side of the building and he landed on a road 30 feet below. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The HSE’s investigation learned that CEMEX had recognised the potential for blockages to cause exothermic reactions as steam pressure built up within the mixer, but took no action to prevent them. The mixture was being passed through the machine too fast, meaning it had not finished reacting when it left the top mixer. This had a large vent to release the steam, whereas the lower mixer did not have a suitable-size vent to cope with the steam pressure.

The court heard the company had failed to review its risk assessment following a previous incident in May 2006, when another man was injured using the same machine. This explosion bent a metal-cladded external wall, pushing it out by 50cm and the company wrongly came to the conclusion that the explosion was caused by mechanical pressure, rather than an exothermic reaction.

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