A number of employees at Tata Steel were reportedly exposed to a toxic gas that could have killed them or at least seriously maimed them if ignited. Two employees found themselves choking on the airborne chemicals and “suffered coughing and breathing difficulties”.
Both were admitted to hospital for treatment.
The Scunthorpe site in question is reportedly registered as a “top tier” Control of Major Accidents Hazards, as the site stored a lot of dangerously toxic and extremely flammable substances. With the serious risk of explosion and harm, Tata Steel were accused of failing to protect their workers.
Registered in London, Tata Steel UK Limited pleaded guilty to Hull Crown Court for breaching two sections of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The benzole gas cloud reportedly endangered at least five employees, and exposed them to a risk of explosion.
The toxic substance is made from coal and tar, usually used as a ‘motor spirit’ and motor fuel.
Thankfully, the two employees were discharged from hospital the next day. All five were arguably lucky that the flammable cloud was not ignited by a flame or a spark at the factory.
Relevant legislation says that: “it shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees.” Tata Steel appear to have failed to uphold this given that their employees were exposed to an obvious risk. Knowing the huge safety risk the company was putting their employees in, Tata Steel had a duty to implement rules and procedures as well as provide protective clothing and training to ensure no worker could be harmed in the line of duty.
Tata Steel also pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1): “It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct an undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in their employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”
Whilst Tata Steel employees working on the Scunthorpe site may have been aware of the dangers their workplace posed, they would arguably have a reasonable expectation that they would not be exposed to such harms.
The outcome of the case
Hull Crown court fined the global steel manufacturer a total of £930,000 as well as costs of £70,000. That’s a total financial punishment of £1 million.
Health and Safety Executive inspector, Stephen Hargreaves, criticised the company’s behaviour and noted how lucky they were that no one was seriously harmed or killed:
“It was extremely fortunate no one was seriously affected by this incident. Had the flammable vapour cloud ignited this could have resulted in multiple fatalities.”
He continued to express the importance of companies’ duties to meet health and safety regulations:
“This incident highlights the need for all duty holders to implement and address all concerns and potential risks which have been identified. Tata’s failure to do so in this case put a number of workers at risk of serious harm.”
IMPORTANT: advice on this page is intended to be up-to-date for the 'first published date'.
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