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March 6, 2009

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Migrant factory worker killed by fireball

A Polish worker died after receiving severe burns following a furnace explosion at a metal manufacturing factory in Sheffield.

Patrycjusz Handzel, 24, was working as an agency worker for Transaction International Ltd, when the accident took place on 14 March 2007. He was emptying a drum of scrap metal into an induction furnace so that the metal could be melted and reused.

It is thought that the drum contained water, and when the contents were tipped into the furnace it caused an explosion. Mr Handzel was not wearing any protective clothing and when the fireball struck him he was engulfed in flames. One of his colleagues heard the explosion and rushed over to put out the flames, before calling an ambulance. As a result of the explosion Mr Handzel suffered 80 per-cent burns and died in hospital three days later.

Appearing at Sheffield Crown Court on 24 February, Transaction International Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay costs of £50,000.

In mitigation, the firm entered an early guilty plea and said that it had no previous convictions. Following the incident the company created a new system of work that involves three separate checks to ensure there is no water in the drums. It has also put new monitoring procedures in place to make sure that staff wear the correct protective equipment.

HSE inspector, Geoff Clark, said: “This was an horrific incident, which resulted in the needless death of a young worker who had worked at the company for only a few short weeks.

“Not only was there a lack of adequate procedures to ensure that water or other dangerous contamination did not enter the furnace but, whilst it had indeed provided full personal protective equipment, the company had evidently taken no trouble to ensure that it was being worn in practice.

“Added to this workers were not being given appropriate information, instruction and training on the dangers of working with molten metal and of the need to follow safe working practices. It is simply not good enough to pay lip service to safety in this way.”

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