A car salvage firm in Wigan has been heavily fined and ordered to pay the costs of the prosecution after a worker was seriously injured in a fire at work.
Mr Lee Roberts, 33, worked for Douglas Valley Breakers Ltd as a car mechanic until the accident at work on 22 July 2010. Mr Roberts was walking into a pit to remove fuel from a van when a spark ignited fumes in the pit, causing an explosion. CCTV footage then showed Mr Roberts rushing from the pit, his clothes aflame. He was rushed to hospital and sustained sever burns to his hands, legs and nose in the fire. He has been unable to work since.
The Health and Safety Executive were subsequently informed of the accident and sought to investigate. Their investigation found the following health and safety breaches by the firm:
- A failure to implement a safe system of work, with workers climbing up the outside of storage racks and riding on the forks of a forklift truck to reach items high on racks
- A failure to provide proper equipment for work to be undertaken safely, including a failure to provide suitable fire detectors and alarms, and a failure to provide adequate fire safety training
The investigation also found that workers should never have been allowed to drain fuel into inspection pits and that there should have been no sources of ignition nearby.
The criminal case came before the Preston Crown Court on 31 October 2013. Douglas Valley Breakers Limited pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002, one breach of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and two breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. As a result the company was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £25,000 towards the costs of the prosecution.
Neither Douglas Valley Breakers Limited nor their criminal defence solicitors appear to have commented after the judgment.
HSE Inspector David Myrtle stated after the hearing: “Douglas Valley Breakers was guilty of several serious safety breaches. It failed to properly consider the risks its employees faced while removing fuel from vehicles, or to do anything about them. It was therefore almost inevitable that a worker would be badly burned in a fire. The company had the right equipment to do the job properly but instead it allowed workers to stand in a pit surrounded by fuel vapours where just one spark from electric equipment could start a fire.”
Chris Hadrill, a solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “Employers have an obligation to implement a safe system of work for their employees and this is arguably especially so when there is a risk of fire. The business in this case failed completely to take the necessary steps to avoid injury to Mr Roberts and was heavily fined for doing so. However, Mr Roberts has paid the real price in this case.”