Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

November 10, 2014

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Corporate manslaughter: waste firm fined £500K

A South Yorkshire waste firm has been fined £500,000 after being found guilty of corporate manslaughter following the death of an employee in an explosion in January 2011.

Father-of-three Michael Winfrey, 42, from Wickersley, suffered fatal head injuries after the door of an autoclave machine he was operating blew out under pressure at Sterecycle’s Rotherham plant. He was airlifted to Leeds General Infirmary but died later that day. Another employee suffered “serious life-changing injuries”.

A joint investigation, conducted by South Yorkshire Police and HSE, found that the explosion resulted from the failure of a screw connection to the autoclave locking ring, which secured the door to the machine.

Sheffield Crown Court heard on 7 November that the force of the explosion blew a hole in the factory wall.

Det Sgt Rob Platts, who led the investigation, said: “I am pleased with the verdict reached today as it recognises the systemic failings of a company who had a duty of care to its employees.

“The company was aware of a longstanding issue with the autoclave doors and made no effort to repair the problem properly, putting the lives of their employees at risk.”

Kevin Goss, 57, a former maintenance manager at the company, was cleared at Sheffield Crown Court of perverting the course of justice.

Charges against two other men under section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 were withdrawn during the trial.

HSE inspector Carol Downes said: “Sterecycle (Rotherham) Ltd didn’t properly understand the risks of, and lacked the competence in, operating steam pressure autoclave systems.

“Modifications were made to the autoclaves without adequately considering the effect on the equipment.

“Safety devices were removed because they slowed production and when breakdowns occurred ‘running repairs’ were made without ever getting to the root cause of the problems.

“Employees were inadequately trained and felt in genuine fear for their safety at the site. The view was taken that production should be maintained at all costs.

“This lethal combination all came together in January, resulting in the tragic death of Michael Whinfrey and a colleague receiving life-changing injuries.

“Other employees and members of the public were also put at risk.

“This terrible incident was entirely preventable. The clear standards and strict inspection regimes set out in the regulations were totally neglected by the company.”

The plant, which used to treat up to 130,000 tonnes of waste a year, closed after a “significant downturn in trading” after the explosion.

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