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September 24, 2007

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Poor maintenance regime costs Corus GBP 125,000

Steel giant Corus has been landed with fines totalling £125,000 after a worker received “life-threatening” burns to his lower body when he fell into a pit of hot toxic chemicals while carrying out a pumping operation.

Grimsby Crown Court handed down the fine on 21 August after hearing how the incident happened at the company’s coke ovens complex at Appleby, near Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, on 26 March 2005.

The court was told that the man had been working at an interceptor pit, which contained process liquor at a temperature of 92 degrees centigrade during a pumping operation to prevent flooding of the pit, which had backed up.

“The pit flowed into an effluent pond via an underground drain that had become blocked,” Helen Berry, the HSE inspector who investigated the case, explained to SHP. “The pit would have overflowed if this had been allowed to go on, so the workers were trying to pump overground from the pit into the effluent pond to compensate for the blockage.”

Because of difficulties with the overground pipe in this operation, the pump frequently stopped working. As the employee went to the edge of the pit to try to shake the pipe to correct this, the pipe kicked, causing him to lose his balance and fall feet first through the corroded metal guard-railings into the pit. He had to spend several weeks in a burns unit as a result of the injuries he received.

In mitigation, Corus said it had taken prompt remedial action to prevent a recurrence of such an incident, which it greatly regretted. It had made a prompt admission of guilt and also admitted full civil liability.

Inspector Berry commented: “This was a very serious incident, which resulted in an employee receiving extensive, life-threatening burns. The immediate cause was the company’s poor workplace maintenance regime, which meant that corrosion went unattended in the fencing provided to prevent falls into the interceptor pit.”

She continued: “Employers have a duty to ensure that their workplace is safely maintained, and this case all too clearly demonstrates the potential consequences of failure to discharge that duty. The company had not carried out a risk assessment, nor a careful examination of what could cause harm to its employees. This is an all-important step when it comes both to protecting workers and to complying with the law. Accidents can ruin lives and workers have a right to be protected from harm. Employers are not expected to eliminate risk entirely, but they are required to take reasonable control measures to protect their staff. Had this been done, the outcome might well have been different in this case.”

Corus UK was charged with breaching:

– reg.3(1)(a) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 by not making a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to its employees’ safety — fine: £50,000; and

– regs.5(1) and 5(2) of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 by not maintaining the workplace in good order, and not having a suitable maintenance system for equipment — fine: £37,500 on each charge.

Full costs of £17,763 were awarded against the company.

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