Global steel company Tata was fined £500,000 for serious safety breaches today after a worker died when he fell into a channel carrying slag waste at 1,500 degrees Celsius when covers had been removed for maintenance and not replaced.
Kevin Downey, 49, was working on a night shift on the Number 4 Blast Furnace at the Port Talbot steelworks when the incident happened on 25 April 2006. At the time, the company was operating as Corus.
Swansea Crown Court heard that Mr Downey, of Port Talbot, had over 30 years’ experience working on the blast furnaces when the incident happened. It was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which brought the prosecution.
The court was told that it was believed Mr Downey went to the cast house at the site to inspect the slag pool, which was due to close for maintenance work during the day shift.
While he was on a veranda area, steam from a granulator became acute forcing him to leave. He tried to retrace his steps through the dense steam but visibility may have been as little as three feet and he fell into the open section of a channel that was running slag at 1,500 degrees Celsius. He attempted to climb out and was helped out by workers who heard his cries. Although conscious he died later the same day.
HSE’s investigation found that the company had a reporting system which showed a significant number of near misses where steam had led to dangerous situations with the potential to injure workers or damage equipment.
It was also common practice to operate the furnace with sections of channels – or runners – left phentermine no prescription 37.5 mg uncovered without taking additional precautions to prevent anyone from falling in.
Tata Steels UK Ltd, of Millbank, London, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay £57,487 in costs.
Speaking after the hearing, HSE Principal Inspector Colin Mew, said:
“The lack of visibility caused by steam and the open runners were a fatal combination which should have been foreseen by the company.
“This horrific incident could have been avoided if the company had a system in place to ensure that either no covers were left off the runners or – if they needed to be left off – a temporary barrier was erected around them.
“Kevin Downey was an experienced and well respected member of the steel making community in Port Talbot. His courage and quick thinking together with other employees on the occasion of a major explosion on Blast Furnace Number 5 in 2001 almost certainly saved the lives of a number of his colleagues making his death particularly poignant and tragic.”
Kevin Downey’s widow, Tanya, said: “This incident has had a devastating impact on all his family.
“We hope that today’s hearing will act as a reminder to all employers that failure to observe basic health and safety issues can have catastrophic consequences.
“Kevin was a safe and conscientious worker and loved by his family, friends and colleagues. We hope other families will not have to go through the pain we have since his death.”
Further information on health and safety in the steel industry can be found on the HSE website at http://www.hse.gov.uk/moltenmetals/index.htm