Three South East firms have been ordered to pay a total of £685,787.31 in fines and costs for serious safety breaches after a plumber died and six other workers were seriously injured by a barrage of flying gas cylinders. It appears that the businesses had failed to recognise the risks of compressed gas cylinders; something we see with many businesses that we visit.
In this case a man was struck by one of 66 heavy cylinders as they rocketed at speeds of up to 170 mph after one toppled over, discharged high-pressure gas, collided with others and set off a frightening chain reaction.
The man had been going about his daily business on a construction project in Welwyn Garden City and was walking with a colleague when he was struck by one of the argonite gas cylinders as they were propelled alarmingly around the building. Some of the cylinders which travelled at estimated speeds of up to 170mph developed sufficient energy to penetrate walls and ceiling voids, travelling into more remote parts of the building. The building itself was severely damaged.
The man suffered multiple injuries and died at the scene. Several other workers, including electricians working in the argonite store room, suffered injuries and long term effects resulting from the trauma of that day.
A HSE investigation into the incident found that the man died as a result of a series of unsafe practices relating to the installation of fire suppression equipment at the new-build storage facility.
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.
In a prosecution brought by the HSE against all three companies for safety breaches the court heard that 80 cylinders, nearly two metres high and each weighing 142 kg, were stored without their safety-critical protection caps and left without being properly secured in racks.
HSE found that one or more of these cylinders was de-stabilised and probably fell over, causing its unprotected valve to shear off near the cylinder neck. This released an uncontrolled jet of liquified argonite gas under high pressure [equivalent to some 300 bar], the force of which caused the cylinder to move, colliding with others. These, in turn, were also knocked over and sustained similar damage.
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.
Crown House Technologies Ltd pleaded guilty and was fined £117,000 and ordered to pay costs of £119,393.65
Kidde Fire Protection Services Ltd pleaded guilty and was fined £165,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £59,696.72.
Kidde Products Ltd, pleaded guilty and was fined £165,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £59,696.72.
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.