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Cumbrian father survives being engulfed by fireball
Posted by David Cant on July 18, 2011

A global packaging firm has been fined £90,000 after two workers suffered life-threatening injuries when they were engulfed by a fireball at a factory in Cumbria.

Gordon Metcalf, 62 from Maryport, and another worker, who has asked not to be named, were about to clean debris from a damaged fuse box when a ball of fire shot out, setting their clothes alight.

Innovia Films Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following an investigation into the cause of the fire at the plant on Station Road in Wigton on 13 September 2006.

Carlisle Crown Court heard that doctors thought Mr Metcalf was unlikely to survive due to the extent of his injuries. He is still undergoing treatment for his burns, nearly five years on, and will never be able to return to work. His colleague’s injuries were less severe and he has now been able to find employment.

The HSE investigation found that there had been a fire in the fuse box during the previous afternoon but live cables had been routed through it so the cooling equipment at the factory could continue to operate.

This meant the company, which has production sites in the UK, USA, Belgium and Australia, avoided having to shut down the plant for 36 hours to reset the machines.
When electrician Gordon Metcalf and his colleague, an apprentice electrician, came into work the following morning they were asked to remove the debris from the fuse box and plate over the front to prevent access.

The court was told that a suitable risk assessment had not been carried out for the work, and that management at the company had allowed it to go ahead without the electricity supply being isolated.

Mr Metcalf, who is married with two children and two grandchildren, suffered burns to 47 percent of his body in the explosion. He was in a coma for four weeks, intensive care for six weeks and in hospital for five months. He said:

“I still cry at the drop of a hat. If someone asks what’s happened to me, that’s the hardest bit. I wake up in the middle of the night and just can’t get back to sleep once I start thinking about it.

“I remember the fireball just knocking me backwards, and I split my head open. I managed to get downstairs to some water, and only realised I was on fire when I saw my arm on the handrail.

“When I came out of hospital, I had to wear a suit over my head and body for a year and could only take it off to wash. I still have to apply cream three times a day to stop the scarring getting any worse.

“There’s no way I can return to return to work as an electrician as I struggle to grip with my hands. I’m also constantly short of breath and my skin flakes off if I knock my hand. I just wish Innovia had cut the electricity supply before asking us to do the work.”
Mark Dawson, HSE Principal Inspector for Cumbria, said:

“Two workers have suffered devastating injuries that will impact on them for the rest of their lives. Mr Metcalf has faced a long painful recovery and still requires treatment.
“It was an astonishing decision to allow work to go ahead without the live electricity supply being switched off, and even went against the company’s own work procedures.

“If the factory had been shut down for just a day and a half then neither of the workers would have suffered severe burns.”

Innovia Films Ltd, which employs 850 people at its headquarters on West Street in Wigton, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 by putting workers’ lives at risk. The company was ordered to pay £26,790 towards the cost of the prosecution in addition to the fine of £90,000 on 18 July 2011.

A total of 25 workers were killed and more than 4,000 suffered major injuries in the manufacturing industry in Great Britain last year. Information on preventing injuries is available at

Resource: Health and Safety Executive


David Cant is a Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner extraordinaire. He has a wealth of Industry experience and is the MD of Veritas Consulting. David also Blogs about Health and Safety here Health and Safety Consultants

His aim is to flavour Health and Safety with integrity, served with a side of humour You can find David on - Twitter and Google also Linkedin

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