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Fireball engulfs two Workers – Packaging firm receives fine
Posted by David Cant on July 21, 2011

Two workers were left with life threatening injuries after working on a broken fuse box in a factory in Cumbria. One of the men has asked not to be named, the other a 62 grandfather, Mr Gordon Metcalf were trying to clear out the fuse box of any debris. A risk assessment was needed to be carried out and could have been using health and safety consultants.

Fire Caused Painful and Life Threatening Injuries

While they were working the fuse box emitted a fireball which resulted in the clothes Mr Metcalf and his colleague were wearing set on fire. It was doubtful as to whether Mr Metcalf would survive as his injuries were so severe. Even after five years he still has to receive treatment and it is very unlikely that Mr Metcalf will be able to return to work.

Previous Fire Made Working Conditions Unsafe

During the investigation it was discovered that there had be a fire in the fuse box they had been working on the day before.  In order for work to continue in the factory the live wires were routed through it.  The cables were for the cooling equipment that is needed to keep the machinery running and allowed the firm to stay open.  If they had shit off the machinery it would have taken them almost two days to start them back up and get back to business.

Health and Safety Services Could Have Prevented the Accident

The global packaging company have sites in other parts of the world and should have been aware that a full risk assessment needed to be carried out before Mr Metcalf and the apprentice working with him started work.  Risk assessments are just one of the health and safety services which companies can use to prevent lives being put at risk. They were told to clean out the fuse box and replace the cover with a plate so that no one could fiddle with the wiring.

The packaging company let the electricians work on the fuse box despite the lack of risk assessment.  They also did not ensure that the electricity supply was isolated off. As a result of these failings Mr Metcalf spent weeks in hospital and was in a coma for four of those weeks.  He suffered intensive burns to 47 per cent of his body.  The emotional trauma has affected his life badly and he stated that he still thinks about it a night which prevents him from sleeping.

Packaging Firm Went Against Their Own Procedures

Carlisle Crown Court heard that the HSE Inspector found it outrageous that work was allowed to be carried off without isolating the electricity supply. They had procedures in place and this act of turning off the supply was one of their procedures.  They were summoned to court where the packing firm pleaded guilty to the charges brought against them.  They were fined £90,000 for putting lives at risk (Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act.  On top of the fine they will also need to pay £26,790 in costs.

Call 0800 1488 677 to discuss risk assessments and fire risk assessments with health and safety consultants.


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

This post has been filed in: Fire Risk Assessments, Workplace Safety

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