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August 1, 2012

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Port Talbot blast hero dies falling into molten waste

Tata Steel has been fined £500,000 after a worker, whose bravery saved lives during the Port Talbot steelworks explosion in 2001, died from burns in an incident at the site five years later.

Kevin Downey, 49, was working a night shift on the number four blast furnace at the steelworks when the incident took place on 25 April 2006.

It’s thought Mr Downey accessed the cast house in the furnace to inspect a slag pool, which was scheduled to undergo maintenance the following day. While he was standing on a veranda area, steam released from a granulator became intense and forced him to leave.

He tried to retrace his steps but the steam was so dense that visibility may have been as little as three feet. While walking thought the steam he fell into a channel carrying slag waste, which had been uncovered for maintenance. His colleagues pulled him out of the slag, which was running at 1500oC, but he died later the same day owing to his injuries.

HSE Principal Inspector Colin Mew revealed the company had a reporting system, which showed a significant number of near misses where steam had led to dangerous situations. He also explained that the firm should have installed barriers around the open channel.

“The lack of visibility caused by steam and the open channel were a fatal combination, which should have been foreseen by the company,” said Principal Inspector Mew.

“This horrific incident could have been avoided if the company had a system in place to ensure that either no covers were left off the channel or, if they needed to be left off, a temporary barrier was erected around them.

In 2001, Mr Downey rescued a number of his colleagues following an explosion in the number-5 blast furnace at the site, which destroyed the furnace and badly damaged the cast-house floor. He also radioed vital information about how to make the furnace safe. Three workers died in the explosion and 12 were seriously injured.

Principal Inspector Mew added: “His courage and quick thinking, together with other employees on this occasion, almost certainly saved the lives of a number of his colleagues, making his death particularly poignant and tragic.”

Tata Steel appeared at Swansea Crown Court on 31 July and pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) and s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. In addition to the fine it was ordered to pay £57,487 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm entered a guilty plea at the earliest opportunity and said it had fully cooperated with the investigation. The company installed barriers around the channel hours after the incident took place.

In January, Tata Steel was fined £15,000 for breaching s2(1) of the HSWA 1974 after two workers narrowly avoided being killed or seriously injured when a gas pipe burst into flames during repair work at its facility in Scunthorpe.€

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11 years ago

The company installed barriers around the channel hours after the incident took place.

The above extract says it all really?

Grossly negligent and not for the first time, yet still considered stalwarts of Industry, beggars the question why?.

I cannot imagine the pain felt by this poor chap, a truely shocking incident.

11 years ago

Given the circumstances and the bravery shown, I would hope that Mr Downey will be considered for a bravery award. Like a member of the Armed Forces, Mr Downey has acted to save others. He turned towards the danger when he could have gone to safety!

11 years ago

What a truley tragic story – when will we ever stop hearing of such awful lack of basic safety standards from this company?

How has it taken six years for this case to be concluded? Has the safety culture and committment of Tata’s leadership improved in the meantime? I would be interested in comments from anyone in the “know” and what on earth we can do if the answer to my second question is no?