A tyre manufacturer has been fined £150,000 after an employee died when he became trapped inside an industrial autoclave.
The 48-year-old worker’s body was found inside the machine – which is used to heat tyre parts to temperatures of 145 degrees Celsius - at the firm’s Carlisle factory in September 2012.
Pirelli Tyres was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after a work accident investigation found the company did not have a system in place to ensure the device was checked before it was switched on.
Carlisle Crown Court heard that CCTV footage of the factory floor showed the worker was last seen alive at around 2.45pm on the day of the accident. Just over an hour later, one of the man’s colleagues shut the door on the five-metre long industrial autoclave and switched it on. The worker’s body was found inside the machine just after 6pm.
The HSE investigation revealed the heavy circular pressure-door on the autoclave could not be opened from the inside. Furthermore, there was no way anyone trapped inside could halt the operating process once the machine had been switched on.
The autoclave was used to heat rubber tyre beads by piping high-pressure steam into the machine, creating a deadly super-heated atmosphere with little or no oxygen.
The investigation found that employees had previously entered the autoclave to collect fallen beads from the floor when the pressure door was open between operating cycles.
Despite this incredibly hazardous practice, Pirelli failed to identify the potential risks the autoclave posed as a dangerous confined space and failed to implement any kind of safety measures.
After pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, Pirelli Tyres Ltd was fined £150,000 and ordered to pay £46,706 in prosecution costs.
Sadly, like so many of the fatal work accidents Slater and Gordon Lawyers deal with, if the employer had simply implemented the necessary safety measures to prevent this type of accident from occurring, this man’s tragic death may have been avoided.
Crucially, there were no instructions or signs preventing access to the autoclave and there was no system in place for checking that no-one was inside before the machine’s doors were closed and the operating cycle was started.
The fact that workers were previously allowed and known to be entering the autoclave between cycles to pick up fallen tyre beads show that the firm failed to carry out a risk assessment.
Any employer that uses machines that allow ‘full body access’, such as industrial autoclaves or ovens, must review what safety measures they have in place to prevent their staff from becoming trapped inside as the consequences can clearly be disastrous.
Autoclave operators should be able to see if anyone is inside the machines before they are switched on. In addition, machines of this nature need to have some means of escape as well as crucially, some way in which they can be switched off from the inside.
Elaine Malcolm is a Personal Injury Solicitor, specialising in Work Accident compensation claims at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
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