Wednesday, November 11, 2015

News: Tata fined after Rotherham steelworks explosion

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Tata Steel has been fined £180,000 after pleading guilty to safety breaches after an employee narrowly escaped death when he was showered in scalding molten metal in a massive explosion at its Rotherham plant.

The 49-year-old furnace operative, who has asked not to be named, suffered life-threatening injuries in the incident on March 9 2012 at Tata Speciality Steels' premises at Aldwarke.

The worker, from Rotherham, was injured after a control system fault caused 25 tons of molten metal to spill from a furnace. Following the usual practice, the worker and a colleague began to hose water onto the spilled metal to cool it down. Soon after the water made contact, there was a huge explosion and the worker was covered in molten metal.

He staggered to safety where colleagues rushed to his aid and applied a burn shield before he was taken to hospital. Two other employees received minor injuries.

The incident was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted Tata Steel UK Ltd for safety breaches.

Sheffield Crown Court heard this week that a few weeks prior to the incident a fire had damaged the furnace control system, which required a temporary fix until new parts were fitted. On the day of the incident an electrician was asked to remove the workaround as it was thought that the fault had been fixed.

Leading up to the explosion, molten metal was being poured from the furnace into a ladle underneath for the first time since the removal of the temporary fix. As the molten metal poured an alarm activated, locking the furnace into position. A furnace worker tried the emergency return, which should have returned the furnace and stopped the molten metal discharging, but this failed.

After the ladle had been filled and automatically moved away, the furnace continued to discharge a further 25 tons of molten metal into a pit below.

HSE's investigation identified serious safety failings by Tata in recognising and dealing with risks that led to workers being exposed to unnecessary danger. It found Tata had no procedures for dealing with spillages of molten metal, no assessment of the dangers and risks had been carried out and there was no safe system of work in place.

HSE found this led to a situation where it had become normal practice for workers to hose water onto spills. Molten metal will explode if water penetrates the surface.

Tata Steel UK Ltd was fined a total of £180,000 and ordered to pay £82,979.26 in costs after pleading guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

HSE inspector Denise Fotheringham said: "This was a horrific incident that left a worker with life-changing injuries, which have had a devastating impact on him and his family. Tragically, it could have been avoided had Tata assessed the risks of dealing with molten metal spillages.

"The company's business is to make steel, but they had no procedures for dealing with these spillages, leading to employees using hoses to cool the metal. This was very dangerous but the scale of risk had not been recognised by workers, who had received no other information or instruction on what to do.

"The resulting explosion was massive and a man nearly lost his life. He remains badly-scarred by what happened that day.

"Tata no longer uses water to cool spillages and the risk has been eliminated. If the company had done this prior to the incident, this worker and his family would not be where they are today."

Tata Steel website

Images: HSE

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