International steel firm Tata was yesterday fined £500,000 for serious safety breaches after a worker died from injuries sustained falling into a 1,500 degrees celsius slag waste channel.
Kevin Downey, 49, was working the night shift at the Number 4 Blast Furnace at Port Talbot steelworks when the incident occurred in April 2006.
Swansea Crown Court heard that Mr Downey, who had over 30 years’ experience in the industry, went to the cast house at the site to inspect the slag pool, which was due to close for maintenance during the day shift.
Granulator steam forced Mr Downey to leave, but the low visibility caused him to fall through a section where covers had been removed for maintenance and not replaced.
Colleagues helped him out of the channel, but he died later the same day.
The Health and Safety Executive, which brought the prosecution and conducted the investigation, found a reporting system showing a significant number of near misses where steam had led to dangerous situations.
It also found that the firm – known at the time as Corus – made common practice of operating the furnace with sections of channels left uncovered without taking additional precautions.
Tata Steels UK Ltd, of Millbank, London, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay £57,487 in costs.
After the hearing, HSE principal inspector Colin Mew said the lack of visibility caused by steam and the open channel section was “a fatal combination which should have been foreseen by the company”.
“This horrific incident could have been avoided if the company had a system in place to ensure that either no covers were left off the runners or – if they needed to be left off – a temporary barrier was erected around them.”
“Kevin Downey was an experienced and well-respected member of the steel-making community in Port Talbot. His courage and quick thinking together with other employees on the occasion of a major explosion on Blast Furnace Number 5 in 2001 almost certainly saved the lives of a number of his colleagues making his death particularly poignant and tragic.”
Mr Downey’s widow, Tanya, said the incident had had a “devastating impact” on the family.
“We hope that today’s hearing will act as a reminder to all employers that failure to observe basic health and safety issues can have catastrophic consequences.”
“Kevin was a safe and conscientious worker and loved by his family, friends and colleagues. We hope other families will not have to go through the pain we have since his death.”