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Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.
April 20, 2011

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Metal firm put productivity before safety

A company in Tamworth has admitted encouraging staff to bypass a safety interlock on an industrial oven in order to increase productivity.

Burton-on-Trent Magistrates’ Court heard that a 24-year-old worker at Enviro-Strip (UK) Ltd suffered serious burns as a result of a flash fire, which occurred when he prematurely opened an industrial oven.

The specialised oven was being used to remove paint from metal in a low-oxygen environment, so the metal could be used as parts for the automotive industry. The oven decomposes the paint at a temperature of 400oc and it had a safety interlock in place to ensure that the door could not be opened until the temperature dropped below 260oc.

But the oven’s interlock had been deliberately bypassed so that it could be opened at any point, which allowed the firm to put metal in the oven while it was at maximum temperature instead of waiting for the machine to cool down. This meant that each load could spend less time in the oven than was previously thr case.

On 19 March 2010, a worker opened the oven door while the machine was still at its optimum temperature, which resulted in a flash fire when the outside oxygen reacted with the paint. He suffered burns to his face, arm, neck and left hand and was airlifted to hospital. He spent four days in a medically-induced coma and was unable to return to work for three months owing to his injuries. He has been instructed by doctors to avoid staying out in sunlight, as his skin is now too sensitive.

HSE inspector, Gail Pannell, told SHP that the company should have been aware of the risks created by allowing the machine’s safety interlock to be bypassed. She said: “This was a very serious, entirely preventable incident that could easily have been fatal and left a man on a life support machine. He is extremely lucky to have recovered from his injuries.€

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11 years ago

This beggar’s belief. Where was the company’s competent H&S adviser? This is why all businesses should have access to one. They were lucky that the fine was so small, the court could have thrown the book at them and prosecuted them for loads more offenses.

11 years ago

I can only assume this company is relatively small with a low annual turnover to warrant such a small fine for this flagrant breach of legislation and sensible business practice! Why were none of the managers or supervisors prosecuted, as this would have sent a far clearer message! This practice was probably encouraged to cut costs and an engineering solution could have been found with some inteligent consideration.

11 years ago

A lot of companies are ignoring the H&S Officer and dismiss everything they say. At the end of the day management will always put production first because that is what management do. They do not care about the consequences at all.
This incident was completely avoidable and frankly the costs to that company is far to small. The injured worker now permanent damage. There is no price for that.

11 years ago

Where was the RA, training and supervision of this potentially leathal working practice? Clearly nowhere to be seen. Cases like this make a joke out of health and safety law with flagrant and wilful breaches. There must be a case where individuals should be held to account for their acts and omissions.

Mitigation should not include taking action after the event, which they should have had in place before the event!