A Staffordshire animal rendering and food waste recycling company has been fined £660,000 after a worker died as he tried to fix an industrial cooker. A self-employed contractor aged 50 was carrying out repairs inside the cooker at John Pointon & Sons Ltd when the incident happened.
While he was inside, steam from elsewhere in the system fed into the area where he was working. He was badly scalded and died in hospital from his injuries the following day.
An investigation by the HSE found he was allowed to enter the cooker without the proper precautions being taken. The company had not properly considered the risks of entering the cooker, had failed to put in place a safe system of work, and did not competently manage the work as it was taking place.
Stafford Crown Court heard that in 2004 another employee was killed at the same site when he entered a confined space without proper precautions being taken. John Pointon & Sons Ltd, of Cheddleton, Leek, was fined £660,000 and ordered to pay a further £187,632 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
After sentencing, the HSE inspector on the case commented that the cookers in operation at the company formed the core part of the business. Steam and hot vapours getting into the cookers from other connected pieces of equipment was clearly foreseeable, and precautions should have been taken to ensure all avenues which had the potential to allow steam to be fed back into the cooker had been suitably isolated.
It is clear that John Pointon and Sons Ltd failed to do this and it cost this man his life.
It is well recognised that working in confined spaces can be extremely dangerous, and given the past history then John Pointon & Sons Ltd had to be fully aware of the risks having already had a fatality at the site.
We continue to be amazed how businesses can operate without fully taking into account the nature and risks of their operations and would suggest this business was lucky not to have been charged with Corporate Manslaughter as its controls appear to have been grossly negligent. Having one fatality is poor practice but having two connected to confined space working is totally unacceptable.
This case should serve as a warning that any business that carries out work in confined spaces should double check their procedures. Confined space working adds risks and businesses must identify what measures should be taken to ensure the safety of their workforce.