Companies are being warned to understand safety regulations after two employees died while working in a Hereford factory.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issued the warning after Macclesfield-based Bodycote HIP was prosecuted after pleading guilty in the case brought by HSE before Worcester Crown Court on April 24, 2009.
Bodycote HIP Ltd was fined £533,000 and ordered to pay costs of £200,000 on July 24, 2009, for breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 following the deaths at its manufacturing plant in College Road, in Hereford.
The court heard that on the June 14, 2004, the company’s works manager and maintenance engineer were found collapsed on the stairs leading to a concrete-lined pit, into which argon gas had leaked from a large pressure vessel.
The pit’s oxygen alarm system was switched off and the ventilation system was not running, it emerged in the hearing.
HSE inspector Luke Messenger said: “Both these tragic deaths were not only regrettable but also entirely preventable.
“The risks from confined spaces and asphyxiation due to the presence of argon were well known to the company, which had experience of a similar double fatality at a Bodycote Group site in California, just three years earlier.
“Despite this warning the company failed to undertake a proper risk assessment for entry into the confined space.
“Although they had implemented a safe system of work and permit to work procedure, they had not properly trained employees in their use, or ensured that these systems and procedures were being followed through their auditing procedure,” he added.
“On the day of the incident, the ventilation system, which could have removed the leaking argon before it became a problem, and the oxygen alarm system, which would have warned of the oxygen-depleted atmosphere, were not switched on.
“Had these systems been working these two deaths may not have occurred.
“Confined spaces can be found in a wide range of workplaces and these deaths should serve as a reminder to all industries of the dangers of this type of work.
“Entry to confined spaces should be avoided if possible, but where entry has to be made the work should be done by properly trained and authorised persons in accordance with a safe system of work.
“Simple checks then need to be made to ensure that employees are, in fact, following the system.”