Innovia Films fined after fireball accident at UK plant

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Occupational safety and health

Damaged fusebox at Wigton site
Damaged fusebox at Wigton site
Innovia Films has been ordered to pay ₤116,726 (€132,706) after two workers at its UK plant suffered life-threatening injuries when they were “engulfed by a fireball” while repairing a damaged fuse box.

The packaging firm was fined ₤90,000 and instructed to pay ₤26,790 in legal costs as it admitted breaching health and safety regulations by putting workers' lives at risk following the incident at its Wigton site, Cumbria, five years ago.

Carlisle Crown Court handed down the verdict yesterday after the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) brought the prosecution against the company, which employs 850 workers at the cellulose and BOPP film plant in northern England.

The company said it was sorry for the accident and that it had worked hard to improve health and safety systems to ensure there would be no repeat of such an incident.

Live cables

An investigation by the safety body said that Innovia had decided to route live electric cables through a fuse box that had been damaged in a fire so that cooling equipment at the facility could continue to operate.

This avoided having to shut down the pant for 36 hours to reset the machines, said the HSE.

On 13 September 2006, electrician Gordon Metcalf and his apprentice colleague were instructed to clear the debris from the fuse box and plate over the front to prevent access.

As they carried out the task “a ball of fire shot out, setting their clothes alight”​ and seriously injuring both, said a HSE statement. Officials said they had been “engulfed by a fireball”.

Mr Metcalf suffered severe burns and was not expected to survive. He spent four weeks in a coma and a total of five months in hospital. The 62-year-old, who is still receiving treatment, will never be able to work again.

‘Astonishing decision’

Mark Dawson, HSE principal inspector for Cumbria, was critical of Innovia Films.

“It was an astonishing decision to allow work to go ahead without the live electricity supply being switched off, and even went against the company's own work procedures,”​ he said.

The HSE inspector added that if the factory had been shut down for a day and a half, neither of the workers would have been injured.

Innovia.David Beeby - Chief Executive Officer

Innovia CEO David Beeby (pictured left) said the company had cooperated throughout the investigation and pleaded guilty to the charge.

“We are, of course, extremely sorry for the suffering caused to our two injured colleagues and are pleased that we were able to deal with this matter in a way that saved them from having to give evidence and relive the events of nearly five years ago,”​ he said.

Beeby added: “Innovia Films remains absolutely committed to health and safety. We have worked hard to further improve our safety system to ensure that such an accident does not occur again in the future and that work will continue.”

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