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April 8, 2010

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Corus completes hat trick of fines inside a month

Steel giant Corus has been fined £10,000 following an explosion at its facility in Scunthorpe.

On 3 October 2007, two contractors were welding a 75-metre-tall steel chimney to rectify earlier repair work on the structure. The chimney, also known as a flarestack, was used to vent off excess Cokaoven gas, which is used during the steel manufacturing process.

The flarestack had not been adequately isolated before the welding began, which meant that traces of the flammable gas were present inside the chimney. When one of the workers began welding the structure, the gas ignited, and blew the top of the flarestack in half. Both contractors, and two other workers who were standing near the chimney, fled the scene as debris showered down around them. They escaped with only minor injuries.

HSE inspector Helen Berry said: “It was sheer good fortune that nobody was killed, or seriously injured by the explosion. We could so easily be talking about a catastrophic incident given the size and scale of the structure.

“The fact that there were no serious injuries doesn’t make this any less serious from a safety perspective. There were clear breaches relating to safe working and risk assessment, and it’s disappointing that a major employer like Corus failed in this regard and endangered the lives of workers.

“This incident could easily have been avoided if the company had followed the HSE’s guidance document on the safe isolation of plant and equipment.”

Corus UK Ltd appeared at Scunthorpe Magistrates’ Court on 31 March and pleaded guilty to breaching reg. 5(1) and 6(1) of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002, for failing to carry out a suitable risk assessment, and failing to prevent the risk of an explosion. In addition to the fine it was ordered to pay full costs of £6155.

In mitigation, the firm said it entered an early guilty plea and had cooperated with the HSE’s investigation.

This is the third time that Corus appeared in court in March for safety breaches.

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