Monday, November 10, 2014

News: Sterecycle found guilty of corporate manslaughter

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Sterecycle (Rotherham) Limited has been found guilty of corporate manslaughter following the fatality at its Rotherham waste treatment facility in 2011.

The company used a patented steam processing method called autoclaving to "pressure cook" household and commercial black-bag waste. The Rotherham plant recovered waste in the form of recyclables and a biomass rich soil like substance called "Sterefibre" which has a number of uses.

The Templeborough site was operational since August 2008 and employed 70 local people. It was as a blueprint for a future roll out of waste processing sites around the country. The site also processed 70,000 tonnes of municipal waste from the councils in Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham.

Michael Whinfrey died when the door to the autoclave that he was working on blew out under pressure. Another operator was seriously injured as a result of the explosion.

The firm called in administrators in 2012 following delays in raising finance on the Canadian stock exchange and "a significant downturn in trading results following a substantial fall in global recyclate prices."

The firm vacated the premises in October 2012 and the operations could not continue as the contract with the local councils was terminated. Sterecycle (Rotherham) Limited and associated companies were placed in liquidation in June 2013.

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

Detective Sergeant Rob Platts, who lead the investigation for South Yorkshire Police, 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."

Carol Downes, inspector at the HSE, added: "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 on 11 January 2011, 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."

Kevin Goss, 57, a former maintenance manager at the company, appeared before the jury charged with perverting the course of justice. He was found not guilty of this charge.

Kevin Goss, Steven Weaver, 38, former operations manager, and Paul Greenwell, 51, former operations director, were all charged with Section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Act. These charges were withdrawn during the trial.

Images: Sterecycle

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