A horticultural company has been fined after a worker died and three others were seriously injured in an explosion while emptying a pressurised tank used to heat greenhouses.
One man died of head injuries six days after the incident. Two of his workmates had been asked to open the tank in preparation for upgrading work at a nursery at Bradon Farm, near Taunton. The incident was investigated by the HSE, which prosecuted Cantelo Nurseries Ltd, at Taunton Crown Court.
The court heard that two workers were asked to unbolt a hatch cover from a pressure vessel while there was still pressure in the system. This caused a devastating release of pressure that sent the hatch cover flying across the room followed by a large jet of water that swept everyone off their feet. In addition to the mans fatal injuries, the three other men standing nearby suffered severe injuries.
One worker was unconscious for two weeks following the incident and remained in hospital for many months after suffering injuries to his head and skull, and damage to his forearm, requiring three operations and a skin graft. The horticultural manager, suffered serious trauma to his head including a broken jaw, heavy bruising to his face, damage to his teeth, a cut across the nose, black eyes and a two-inch deep cut to his lip. The third man a Horticultural technician also suffered a fractured arm.
HSE’s investigation found that the work was not properly planned, that workers had not been properly trained or supervised, and that at least one of them spoke very little English, which made it difficult to understand instructions. This is a problem that we have seen with many employers over recent years with employers not considering language or cultural barriers properly in their training and risk assessments. Additionally we have to ask who is providing the supervision because often it’s someone with language skills rather than any knowledge of health & safety.
In fact we have had to suggest to a client operating in a similar environment to this case that their supervisors should be trained to the IOSH Managing Safely standard as this provides a good grounding for supervisors in health & safety management.
In this case the court was told the hatch should not have been removed until all the pressure had been safely released from the system. Cantelo Nurseries Ltd pleaded guilty to two breaches of health and safety legislation and was fined a total of £80,000 and ordered to pay £59,812 in costs.
The HSE Inspector on this case commented that “This tragic incident has cost one man his life and changed the lives of many other people forever. There were simple, sensible and proportionate steps, such as releasing the pressure in the tanks, which could – and should – have been taken to do the work safely. All that was needed was a little thought beforehand to ensure that the work was properly planned, carried out by competent people and supervised. Had this been done, this tragedy could have been avoided. ”