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April 28, 2009

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“Appalling state” of welding equipment resulted in explosion

A motor engineer suffered serious burns after a cracked hose caught fire while he was working beneath a vehicle.

Mr Harjit Singh Matharu was working as an electrical fitter at A1 Rewinds Ltd in Aston, Birmingham when the accident took place on 16 July 2008. Mr Matharu was trying to remove a car exhaust using an oxy-acetylene welding gun, which had not been properly maintained.

The hose, which transported the acetylene to the gun, had multiple cracks and the gas leaked out into an air pocket underneath the vehicle. When the flame from the gun came into contact with the leaking gas it caught fire and exploded, sparking a fire underneath the car. Mr Matharu was able to escape from underneath the vehicle and put out the flames with a fire extinguisher, but still received serious burns. He was rushed to hospital for treatment and was absent from work for a number of months owing to the severity of his injuries.

HSE inspector, Pam Folsom, visited the site and said it was “immediately obvious” that the hose hadn’t been properly maintained since it was first used 28 years ago. The equipment was taken away for inspection and was later condemned.

A1 Rewinds Ltd appeared at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on 24 April 2009 and pleaded guilty to breaching reg.5(1) of the PUWER 1998. It was fined £2000 and ordered to pay £1500 towards the HSE’s costs.

In mitigation, the firm expressed its remorse for the incident and said that it had no previous convictions for safety offences. The business is now in the process of going into receivership and asked that this be taken into account during sentencing.

Inspector Folsom said: “The hoses were in an absolutely appalling state, totally perished, and had been shortened each time that a bend split the hose, allowing highly flammable gas to escape. The consequences of a gas cloud igniting beneath a vehicle, while a man is in the middle of that explosive mixture, are likely to be horrific.

“It is important for companies to ensure that they have fully considered all the risks their employees may face when using any equipment. The hoses were so obviously badly perished that there is no excuse for this incident.”

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