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HIGH FINES & COSTS OVER ‘ROCKETING’ CYLINDER DEATH

Major building services firm and others failed to manage system installation 

Three firms have been ordered to pay a total of over £685,000 in fines and prosecution costs after a plumber died and six other workers were seriously injured by a “barrage of flying gas cylinders” on a Hertfordshire construction project in November 2008.

Crown House Technologies Ltd of Dartford, Kent, was principal contractor for the project and engaged Kidde Fire Protection Services Ltd, of Slough, Berkshire, to supply and install fire suppression equipment at the new facility under construction. This work was carried out by Kidde Products Ltd, also from Slough.

Adam Johnston, aged 38, was struck by one of 66 heavy argonite gas cylinders as they ‘rocketed’ at speeds of up to 170 mph when one cylinder toppled and set off a frightening chain reaction.

Safety caps missing and cylinders not properly secured

Mr Johnston was working on the construction project in Welwyn Garden City when he was struck by one of the cylinders as they were propelled around the building. He suffered multiple injuries and died at the scene. Several other workers suffered injuries and long term effects resulting from the trauma of that day.

HSE investigators found a series of unsafe practices relating to the installation of fire suppression equipment at the new-build storage facility. St Albans Crown Court heard (5 July 2013) heard that 80 cylinders were stored without their safety-critical protection caps and left without being properly secured in racks.

It is believed that one or more cylinders fell over causing the unprotected valve to shear off near the cylinder neck. This released an uncontrolled jet of gas under high pressure causing the cylinder to move and collide with other cylinders which then sustained similar damage.

Terrified workers desperately sought shelter

A chain reaction developed rapidly and for several minutes shocked and terrified workers desperately sought shelter as they “endured a barrage of heavy cylinders” rocketing around them. This continued until 66 of the 80 cylinders had been discharged.

Some of the cylinders travelled at estimated speeds of up to 170mph and developed sufficient energy to penetrate walls and ceiling voids, travelling into more remote parts of the building.

The court was told that the three companies involved failed to recognise the significant risks involved in the project or to carry out an adequate risk assessment.

The principal contractor and the main contractors failed to co-ordinate the scheduled work activities or to co-operate meaningfully in light of the risks. There had also been insufficient training and supervision.

Little evidence those involved were competent

Crown House Technologies Ltd pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to breaching Section 2 and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 was fined £117,000 and ordered to pay costs of £119,393.65

Kidde Fire Protection Services Ltd pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to breaching Regulations 6 and 13(2) of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007and was fined £165,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £59,696.72.

Kidde Products Ltd, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to breaching Section 2 and Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £165,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £59,696.72.

After the case, HSE Principal Inspector Norman Macritchie, said:

“Mr Johnston had no control over the chain of events which led to his tragic death. He died while going about his business as a result of the shortcomings of others. It is only by chance that this incident did not cause further fatalities.

There is little evidence that those involved were competent to undertake this work, or that safe systems of work were provided, or that there was suitable cooperation between the contractors involved.

Employees of other companies were allowed to enter the argonite store while it was potentially unsafe to do so, and there is no evidence that anyone explained the risks to them, or acted effectively to control these risks.

This incident was devastating for his family and yet it could have been avoided had there been effective planning, management, monitoring and coordination of the relevant activities.

Health and safety is sometimes dismissed as an unnecessary burden on businesses but this tragic case clearly demonstrates its true importance to those at the ‘sharp end’ of the industry.”

 

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