29 May 2013
AWE could face compensation claims over workplace injury
The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) could face compensation claims from a worker who was injured in an accident.
Ashley Emery, 29, from Basingstoke, was working at AWE's Berkshire base in 2010 breaking dry nitrocellulose into a plastic bucket containing methyl ethyl ketone - both highly unstable chemicals - when the incident occurred.
Mr Emery momentarily moved away from the bucket and took off his respirator, before quickly looking at the compound to see if it was as he had left it.
As he did this, the bucket lit on fire and produced a large fireball - seriously burning his left arm and face. The fire was so serious that it seriously damaged large areas of the building, but Mr Emery was able to escape before suffering further injury or death.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was informed and immediately launched an investigation into practices at the plant.
Inspectors established that, while AWE adequately recognised hazards related to working with dangerous chemicals, the incident could have been avoided if instructions made by the company were more rigorously enforced by managers.
Issues related to the storage of unnecessary hazardous materials in the manufacturing area of the plant were also flagged by investigators as something that contributed to the fire.
AWE has been fined £200,000, ordered to pay £80,258 in costs, plus £2,500 in non-civil compensation to the injured man after pleading guilty to a single breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
Mr Emery could still launch his own claim against the company.
HSE inspector Dave Norman said: "The fire could have caused multiple casualties and it was entirely preventable had better control systems been in place.
"The failure to instigate such controls was dependent on AWE identifying potential hazards and risks, all of which were well documented, but that simply did not happen.
"Companies working with hazardous substances must take extreme care at all times."
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Posted by Francesca Witney