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Defence firm fined £200k over blast

Defence firm fined £200k over blast

A UK defence company has been fined £200,000 for serious safety breaches that led to a worker being injured by explosives.

Ashley Emery, 29, from Basingstoke, suffered burns to his left arm and face in the blast at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Plc explosives processing building in Aldermaston, Berkshire in August 2010.

Reading Crown Court was told on Monday how Mr Emery was breaking dry nitrocellulose (NC) into a bucket of methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) to produce a lacquer. Both substances are known to be volatile and as he removed his respirator to get a closer look the bucket ignited, creating a fireball. He managed to escape the building before the blaze took hold, the court heard.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) discovered that the incident could have been prevented if AWE had fully recognised the hazards its workers faced when working with NC and applied all the necessary safeguards. The HSE also found that AWE was in possession of all the information on the risks involved when using MEK and NC but failed to follow the guidelines, the court was told. The HSE also found problems with the storage of hazardous materials at the plant and criticised the fact that several explosives processes were happening at the same time.

AWE Plc, of Aldermaston, near Reading, was fined £200,000, told to pay £80,258 in costs and ordered to provide £2,500 in compensation to the injured worker after pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Malcolm Underhill, partner in IBB’s personal injury team commented:

“In this case it appears that Mr Emery was very lucky to escape a severe injury, if not death. It is clear from the HSE findings that the incident could have been much worse had Mr Emery not managed to flee the building before the fire took hold.

“The HSE has identified that AWE PLC were in clear breach of the HSWA 1974 and that if all safeguards had been implemented the accident could have been avoided.

“In addition to the fine and order for costs, a small sum was ordered to be paid as compensation for the injury. However, the court’s powers are limited and they are unlikely to have available all the potential evidence, that would provide a full understanding of the effects of the incident. In this case it would not be surprising that there was some element of psychiatric injury, which may not have been taken account of by the crown court.

“Consequently, if the impact of the injuries and experience have been more than short term, Mr Emery may be entitled to additional compensation to reflect his true losses and injuries, from the civil courts.

“However, for other victims of workplace injuries, they may not be so lucky as the Government has removed the right to bring a civil claim for breach of statutory duty contained in certain health and safety legislation, meaning only negligence claims are possible. This means that if employer can show that either they could not have been expected to know that there was an issue, or that they took all reasonable steps to prevent such an accident, they could not be held liable. Such a change brought in by Government may cause injustice to innocent victims of workplace accidents.”

IBB Solicitors has built a reputation for quality of service in pursuing compensation in cases involving accident, illness or death, including accidents at work. If you would like advice on personal injury issues, contact a member of IBB’s Personal Injury team: call us on 08456 381381 or email pi@ibblaw.co.uk.