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September 23, 2004

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Corus in the dock again following fall

A WORKER at Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus’s Scunthorpe plant fell seven feet on to concrete after the company failed to provide a safe system of work.

Corus pleaded guilty to a breach of s2(1) of HSWA 1974 for not ensuring the safety of its employees and was fined £10,000 with full HSE costs of £1382 by Scunthorpe magistrates.

Sitting on 26 August, the court was told that on 5 June 2003 Corus employee Kevin Houlbrook had been fitting two rectangular steel lids to a tundish – a huge heavy vessel into which molten steel is poured before it goes into a continuous casting machine.

The tundish, in the process of refurbishment, was having a lid, which has steel hooks at the corners, lowered on to it by an overhead crane. The employee was trying to remove the chain hooks from the eyes on the tundish lid.

“It was a fairly simple operation. The problem was that Mr Houlbrook was only five foot two inches tall,” Geoff Clark, the HSE inspector who investigated and prosecuted the case, told SHP. “He could not reach the eyes from the ground so had to climb on to the top of the tundish lid. One of the crane hooks became stuck and, in wrestling it free, he fell on to the concrete floor, suffering bruising to his ribs.”

Inspector Clark added: “Corus should have provided mobile step units to ensure a safe system of work for removing the hooks, but this practice had been going on for the past six years.”

Corus apologised to the injured man and said in mitigation that it had taken immediate remedial action. It explained its internal safety systems and said that senior management had not been aware of the practice.

Inspector Clark warned: “Every year about 80 people are killed and 5500 seriously injured as a result of falls from height. This accident highlights the need for employers to avoid such work, wherever possible. Where the work cannot be avoided, suitable safeguards, such as edge protection, should be in place.”

Corus recently announced its first profit since it was formed in 1999, thanks to soaring global steel prices and job cuts. The company has appeared in court three times in the last three years over health and safety offences. Most recently, it was fined £150,000, in December 2003, after a fatality on its railway system at the same Scunthorpe site (see SHP January 2004, In Court).

* In a separate incident at another steel plant, Newport firm Alphasteel was fined £11,000 by Abergavenny magistrates on 24 August after a worker’s leg became impaled on a steel rod.

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