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December 21, 2012

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HSE takes action against Border Agency for airport explosion risk

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has been censured for safety failings, which could have caused military ammunition to explode at Robin Hood airport.

On 10 November 2009, a flight carrying anti-tank ammunition landed at the airport in Finningley, South Yorkshire. UKBA workers were instructed by their manager to carry out checks on the load. The plane was subsequently moved to a separate part of the site, due to the hazardous cargo.

The pilot of the aircraft warned the workers the ammunition was explosive and shouldn’t be examined, but they ignored the warnings and began to open the five crates, which each contained five live rounds.

Explosives were removed from three separate layers of packaging, which included a protective tubing, exposing the live rounds while ten people were present.

The HSE investigated the incident and found the UKBA had failed to carry out a suitable risk assessment. As a result, the Agency had created a significant risk that the ammunition would detonate if it were dropped, causing all of the cargo to explode. This not only put staff at risk but also members of the public and other aircraft at the site.

On 19 December, UKBA corporate director of resources and organisational department, Paul Darling, attended the Crown Censure meeting at the HSE’s office in Sheffield. He accepted on behalf of the UKBA that it had breached s2(1) and s3(1) of the HSWA 1974.

HSE director for Northern England, David Snowball, who chaired the meeting, said: “Our investigation into the details of the cargo verification by UKBA staff at Robin Hood Doncaster Sheffield airport found that the failings by the Agency were serious enough to warrant this course of action.

“The evidence brought to light by the HSE investigation would be sufficient to provide a realistic prospect of conviction of UKBA in civilian courts. This Crown Censure is the maximum enforcement action that HSE can take and should serve to illustrate how seriously we take the failings we identified.”

After the hearing, a UKBA spokesperson said: “We deeply regret this incident. As acknowledged by the HSE, we have already made significant changes to the way we manage health and safety to avoid a similar incident occurring in the future.”

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