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    WORKER SUFFERS FATAL BURNS IN OXYGEN RICH AREA

    Sparks from angle grinder ignited clothing of workman in confined space

    Yorkshire Water Services Ltd has been fined £733,000 after a fitter suffered fatal burns when his clothing was ignited by sparks in an oxygen enriched area on a water treatment works in July 2015.

    Leeds Crown Court heard that Michael Jennings was working in the bottom of a disused ‘dry well’ (a designated confined space) on the brewery Trade Waste treatment plant at the Tadcaster Sewage Treatment Works. The adjacent area was still in service.

    The effluent treatment plant used oxygen gas injection to assist the clean-up process. Mr Jennings and a colleague were changing the stop valve on a drain pipe which emerged into the bottom of the dry well.

    Mr Jennings was using an angle grinder to cut through corroded bolts when sparks from the grinding wheel impinged onto his overalls which burst into flames. He suffered whole body burns and died in hospital two days later.

    Oxygen enrichment increased fire risk

    HSE investigators found that the drain valve was half-opened and the atmosphere within the dry well was oxygen-enriched, greatly increasing the risk of fire.

    A ‘near miss ‘report had been recorded at the same location in September 2014 when employees found the area was heavily oxygen-enriched. The workers alerted local managers but the warning had not been acted upon. The company failed to identify the implications for any future work.

    HSE also found that the risk assessment and permit to work procedures to be “inadequate”. There were no site-specific procedures in place and the generic risk assessment template form did not include oxygen enrichment as a possible hazard.

    Workmen lacked knowledge and experience

    The employees working on the day of the incident were not familiar with the site and unaware of the September 2014 near miss. The workmen did not have the knowledge or experience to recognise that oxygen-enrichment of the dry well was a potential hazard when the valve was taken off or opened.

    • Yorkshire Water Services Ltd – of Western House, Bradford, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £733,000 and costs of £18,818.

    Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector John Micklethwaite commented:

    This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the company to implement an adequate and effective safe system of work for work in a confined space.

    Those in control of work activities have a duty to identify hazards that could arise, to eliminate or to mitigate them, and to devise suitable safe systems of work. The risk assessment process is central to this role.

    The employer also has a duty to provide the necessary information, instruction and training to his workers, and to provide an appropriate level of supervision to ensure that the work can be carried out safely and without risks to health.”

     

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