Gas firm heavily fined after explosion at work leads to severe injuries to worker

by Redmans Solicitors on March 28, 2013

  • Sharebar

A large gas company with over 1,300 permanent employees has been heavily fined after a criminal prosecution found that it was guilty of serious health and safety breaches in the workplace.

Calor Gas, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Dutch company SHV and a market-leader in liquified petroleum gas (“LPG”), employed Mr Kevin Bates and Mr Graham Crouch as engineers. They were carrying out a routine inspection of LPG cannisters at Stancombe Quarry when the accident occurred on 14 June 2010.

On 14 June 2010 Mr Crouch and Mr Bates were removing residual gas from the cannisters as part of their job of inspecting the site. The residual gas was piped into a tank on the back of their vehicle and a pressure valve was fitted to allow excess gas to escape and prevent a build-up of pressure in the tank on the vehicle. However, the employees failed to properly remove a tarpaulin that was covering the valve and this led to the gas becoming trapped under the tarpaulin. This build-up of gas ignited and the employees were caught in the explosion. Mr Crouch suffered serious 22% burns to his hands, face and chest and was hospitalized for nine weeks whereas Mr Bates was not as badly injured but still required hospital treatment.

A Health and Safety investigation was subsequently commenced into the explosion and the investigation recommended that a prosecution be undertaken. The case went before the North Somerset Magistrates on 25 March 2013 and the Magistrates heard that the company had failed to provide sufficiently clear instructions to its employees on the removal of the tarpaulin. Further, it was heard that the company should have provided better training for staff on the draining of gas. Calor Gas was therefore found guilty of two separate breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 after submitting a guilty plea. The company was fined £30,000 as a result and ordered to pay £75,893 in costs.

The relevant breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 are as follows:

  • Section 2(1): the employer failed, so far as was reasonably practicable, to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of its employees 
  • Section 3(1): the employer failed to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that persons not in their employment who may have been affected by the works were not exposed to risks to their health and/or safety.

The Health and Safety Executive commented after the conviction that “this was a very serious incident that could easily have resulted in both Mr Crouch and Mr Bates being killed. In the event, they suffered severe burns and a great deal of pain, which could have been avoided”. There was apparently no comment from Calor Gas’ criminal defence solicitors.

The above case demonstrates that employers should take all reasonable steps to provide adequate training and instructions to staff – particularly when dealing with hazards such as gas. A failure to do so could render a business criminally liable or subject to a personal injury claim.

Redmans Solicitors offer employment law advice from employment law solicitors

No related posts.

Previous post:

Next post: