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October 7, 2008

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Injured director jailed after fatal-explosion cover-up

A Dorset scrap-metal company has been fined £60,000 and its director imprisoned following the death of an employee after a gas cylinder exploded — the circumstances of which the director tried to cover up.

In a case conducted by the Crown Prosecution Service, on behalf of Dorset Police and the HSE, Winchester Crown Court heard on 23 September that the cylinder exploded at the Poole site of Reliance Scrap Metal Merchants, causing fatal injuries to employee Tommy Mooney and serious burns to director David Matthews.

The court heard that on 9 May 2005, Matthews had been using a compactor machine to crush and shear a number of pressured cylinders, which were being hand-fed into the shear-blade path of the machine, and held there until cut.

A huge explosion and fireball occurred when a cylinder of acetylene gas was crushed by the guillotine blade of the machine. Both men were seriously burned, but Mr Mooney died of his injuries in Poole Hospital on the same day.

In mitigation, Matthews said he had put himself and not Mr Mooney in the most dangerous part of the operation. If he had known there was any potential for an explosion, he would not have put himself or Mr Mooney in such a position. The company did not offer separate mitigation.

David Bell, a key HSE inspector on the case, commented: “This is a very sad case. Common sense tells you that if you cut up a pressurised cylinder it will explode, and if it contains flammable gas then the consequences are likely to be horrific. Mr Mooney would be alive today had such risks not been taken.

He warned: “I urge the scrap industry to think very carefully about how it deals with gas cylinders. They should never be cut or crushed. Most cylinders remain the property of a gas company and should be returned. If you do come across gas cylinders in your scrapyard, take them out of the process and store them in a secure compound before contacting the cylinder owners to arrange collection.”

Reliance Scrap Metal pleaded guilty to breaching:

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