Construction Health and Safety Consultancy and CDM Adviser Services

Industrial explosion underscores the importance of health and safety risk assessments
Posted by David Cant on March 3, 2014

Kidderminster-based firm Filtration Service Engineering Ltd was fined over £45,000 last week after being found guilty of breach Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The severity of the punishment reflects the life-threatening injuries suffered by their employee Clive Dainty who was caught in the blast.

Following concerns about the quality of welding in one of the large vessels onsite, management at Filtrations Service Engineering decided a pressure test was necessary. The unit was connected to the factory’s compressed air supply, and filled with air. Unfortunately the internal pressure built up to such an extent that two parts of the unit blew apart, striking Mr Dainty and throwing him into a wall.

Bad choices cause accidents

Although Filtration Service Engineering were trying to avert a disaster related to faulty welding the testing method they chose was incredibly dangerous, as the injuries to Mr Dainty prove. Commenting on the outcome of the hearing, HSE inspector Ed Fryer said:

Pneumatic testing is a dangerous activity and significant planning is required to ensure the risks are managed. The management of health and safety in this factory was woefully inadequate and simple measures could have been implemented to prevent the incident from happening.”

The importance of risk assessments

For the scenario in question, filling the vessel with water to test for weak joints and leaks would have been sufficient to identify structural weaknesses. A proper health and safety risk assessment would have quickly identified that:

  • The relevant skills and equipment for pneumatic testing were not present on site.
  • The test could have been conducted using much safer methods (water), thereby protecting staff from injury.

The core principles of health and safety legislation revolve around minimising risk to employees and the general public.

Whether Filtration Service Engineering ever undertook a proper health and safety assessment is unclear. It is possible that the risk was incorrectly prioritised as low, or that the managers overseeing the tests did not have an appropriate understanding of how to conduct a risk assessment. Inspector Ed Fryer’s comments above suggest that there other health and safety failings were found in the factory, coupled with a generally low attention to employee protection.

Unfortunately for Mr Dainty, these poor decisions and the ensuing explosion resulted in him having both legs amputated. After several months in hospital to undergo a number of operations, he has also been left with severely restricted movement in his arms.

Lacking skills? Seek professional advice

Where the health and safety of employees comes into doubt, or management lack the skills required to undertake a rigorous risk assessment, professional third party advice is the only option. This could take the form of a general health and safety audit, a one-off risk assessment, or training for staff to ensure you have the skills needed onsite to conduct adequate assessments.

How does your team handle risk assessments? Who agrees the paperwork before projects begin?


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: Construction Health and Safety

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