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Company fined after employee left with severe burns

Hartwell Manufacturing Ltd has been fined after one of its employees was severely burned whilst carrying out work at the Fox’s Biscuits factory in Batley.

What happened?

The 61-year-old from Ossett was part of the team that had been hired to remove three disused oil tanks at the factory site.

He was required to cut a hole in one of the tanks, which had only recently been drained of fuel, using an angle grinder. As he was doing so, sparks from the machinery ignited flammable vapours causing flames to erupt.

Panicking, he attempted to insert a high-pressure water lance into an opening in order to put the fire out, but instead caused a blow-back of flames that quickly engulfed his lower body in flames.

Luckily, one of his colleagues rushed to his aid with a fire extinguisher, however he still sustained extensive burns that required prolonged treatment and rehabilitation.

An investigation into the incident found that the company had ignored the safe system of work that had previously been agreed with Fox’s Biscuits.

Rather than using the agreed cold-cutting equipment, the company had given the employee a high-speed angle grinder, which produces heat and sparks, claiming later it was ‘an oversight’.

The court heard that the managing director had failed to discuss issues with access to the tanks or plans to use the hot-cutting machinery with the Fox’s Biscuits site manager.

What was the outcome?

Hartwell Manufacturing Ltd admitted to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £7,885 in costs.

HSE Inspector, John Micklethwaite, said:

“This worker suffered exceedingly painful burn injuries that could
have been avoided if Hartwell Manufacturing had followed a
safe system of work and not used the angle grinder.
The company kept Fox’s Biscuits in the dark
and effectively smuggled a dangerous
working practice onto the site.

“Work with flammable vapours must always be effectively controlled.
If problems are encountered, you need to stop and reassess
– not press on and use unsafe equipment which
introduces an unacceptable risk of fire
and explosion.

“The job should have been better planned and supervised. At several
key points Hartwells failed to take the opportunity to stop
the job, take stock and liaise with the occupier to
ensure work could go ahead safely.”

If you have been affected by an accident at work, and you would like expert advice, contact Hampson Hughes Solicitors today on 0800 888 6888 or email

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