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ELECTRICIAN ENGULFED IN FUSE BOX FIRE BALL

Horrific burns caused when work took place in live fuse box  

Innovia Films Ltd has been fined £90,000 after two workers suffered life-threatening injuries when they were engulfed by a fireball at a factory in Cumbria on 13th September 2006.

Gordon Metcalf, aged 62, and an unmamed co-worker were about to clean debris from a damaged fuse box when a “ball of fire” engulfed the men setting their clothes alight. 

He said:

“I remember the fireball just knocking me backwards, and I split my head open. I managed to get downstairs to some water, and only realised I was on fire when I saw my arm on the handrail. I just wish Innovia had cut the electricity supply before asking us to do the work.”

HSE investigators found that there had been a fire in the fuse box the previous afternoon. Live cables were routed through the fuse bosd so the cooling equipment at the factory thereby avoiding having to shut down the plant for 36 hours to reset the machines.

The following day Mr Metcalf and his apprentice were asked to remove the debris from the fuse box and plate over the front to prevent access. Carlisle Crown Court heard that a suitable risk assessment had not been carried out for the work with the work proceeding without without the electricity supply isolated.

Mr Metcalf suffered burns to 47 percent of his body in the explosion and was in a coma for four weeks. Doctors thought he was unlikely to survive due to the extent of his injuries. He is still undergoing treatment and will never be able to return to work. 

Astonishing decision to allow work to proceed

Innovia Films Ltd, which employs 850 people at its headquarters on West Street in Wigton, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 by putting workers’ lives at risk. The company was ordered to pay £26,790 towards the cost of the prosecution in addition to the fine of £90,000 on 18 July 2011

Mark Dawson, HSE Principal Inspector for Cumbria, said:

“Two workers have suffered devastating injuries that will impact on them for the rest of their lives. Mr Metcalf has faced a long painful recovery and still requires treatment.

It was an astonishing decision to allow work to go ahead without the live electricity supply being switched off, and even went against the company’s own work procedures.

If the factory had been shut down for just a day and a half then neither of the workers would have suffered severe burns.”

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