Wallop Defence Systems Ltd (WDS) has been ordered to pay £376,000 in fines and costs for safety failings that caused a fatal explosion at its Hampshire factory. A man was killed from injuries sustained in the blast at WDS, in Middle Wallop near Stockbridge, in June 2006.
The aftermath of the first explosion and scale of the fire ….
The man was emptying one of six industrial ovens used in the manufacture of military flares. The ovens contained high levels of nitroglycerin (NG) that exploded, causing an explosion that destroyed the factory building. Several other workers were injured in the incident, with blast debris landing up to 600ft away.
Winchester Crown Court heard that WDS had realised in 2004 that their process for curing pellets as part of the production of military flares produced the explosive chemical as a by-product.
An investigation by the HSE found that none of the company’s senior management team or technical advisers were competent to deal with the NG issue, but did not seek external professional assistance. Given the nature of the materials involved a DSEAR assessment should have been carried out by competent persons; unfortunately this was not done.
After reviewing the company’s procedures the HSE found WDS was not complying with the basics in explosive safety and failed to adhere to licensing requirements for the storage and processing of explosive substances. Their failure to properly assess and manage the risks put workers and the public in danger.
A second explosion followed in December 2008 when the company attempted to dismantle the remaining NG contaminated oven on the company’s second site. On this occasion luckily no one was injured in the explosion; clearly the company had again failed to seek specialist help.
As explained to the court the company failed to engage with the HSE and seek competent expert advice on dismantling it and that the incident was entirely foreseeable and avoidable.
Wallop Defence Systems Ltd, of Middle Wallop was fined a total of £266,000 and ordered to pay £110,000 in costs for three breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Two relating to the fatal explosion and the third to the second blast; the company pleaded guilty to all three breaches.
The HSE Principal Inspector commented that both explosions were foreseeable and preventable, had the company sought and taken appropriate advice and implemented the correct measures.
What appears to be especially concerning was that despite issues with the factory being reported to senior WDS management, nothing changed to safeguard employees and the public. The company had clearly deluded itself that everything was OK and in hand.
We would urge any company working with dangerous substances to seek specialist assistance if sufficient knowledge is not available in-house; which in our vast experience is usually the case. When working with materials that have the potential to explode a business must take extreme care at all times and in all aspects of their operations.
That clearly didn’t happen here, and the consequences were tragic.