A waste recycling company has been fined £220,000 after an employee was severely burned just 8 months after a similar incident.

A court heard that the individual cleared a blocked line by opening two hatches on a chute that carried away burnt waste. He dislodged the blockage using a metal pole but in doing so, waste dropped into a water-filled pit that cooled debris. This caused a scalding hot ash and steam plume to “erupt” through the open hatches.

A Health & Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the company hadn’t adequately considered the risk workers were exposed to and the system of work was not sufficient to stop the incident happening. The company had also failed to put in place appropriate systems to manage and supervise matters.

Similar incident

The court was told two men had been injured eight months earlier albeit less seriously. Ash and steam had again blown through an open hatch after a sledgehammer was used to remove a blockage.

Although a safety review following that incident had made a number of recommendations, not all of them were fully implemented.

Sentence

SUEZ Recycling and Recovery Tees Valley Ltd accepted it broke the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

It was fined £220,000 and ordered to pay costs of £12,695.

The HSE said “Problems often occur in production and it is essential that companies recognise and understand them to prevent them happening or introduce engineering controls and systems of work that prevent people being injured.”

The company says it has carried out a detailed investigation, review and radical overhaul of maintenance procedures to make sure similar incidents are avoided in future.

Tool box talks are said to have helped staff understand new procedures.

Obvious risk

The judge said the company’s safety failings had existed over a number of years and that the risk of an accident such as this was “obvious”.

While the firm was stated to be “on the cusp of medium to high culpability” the judge was satisfied it had “got in place a lot of different measures to try and ensure something like this would never happen again”.

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