Company fined after explosion tore a hole in a factory roof

Explosion at the Flexitallic factory.  (d612b310)
Explosion at the Flexitallic factory. (d612b310)

A company has been fined for safety breaches which contributed to an explosion that punched a hole in the roof of a factory.

An industrial oven exploded at the Flexitallic Limited factory in Scandinavia Mill, Hunsworth Lane, on March 4, 2013, which lead to around a dozen staff members being taken to hospital.

Inside of the Flexitallic factory in Hunsworth Lane.

Inside of the Flexitallic factory in Hunsworth Lane.

All the workers were allowed home after they were checked over, but Huddersfield Magistrates Court today (Tuesday) handed the company a five-figure fine after it found a health and safety breach had contributed to the sudden explosion.

The court heard that a factory production process to “bake” gasket sheets involved mixing the materials with a flammable paraffin before they were dried and placed into an oven.

On the evening of the explosion, the night shift team followed instructions to load a pack of sheets into the oven, unaware that they were not fully dry.

Ten minutes later the oven exploded and tore a massive hole in the roof of the factory when the flammable vapours made contact with the oven’s electrical heating elements.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found Flexitallic had developed a process to dry the sheets separately before they went into the oven but that critical parts of the drier had been allowed to fail and were not repaired.

HSE inspector John Micklethwaite, after the hearing, said: “This was a catastrophic explosion which blew the sinter oven into pieces. Had anyone been in the vicinity, we could have been investigating fatalities and serious injuries.

“Flexitallic knew it was critical the gasket sheets were thoroughly dried out. There was a two-stage drying process in place and a chart giving times depending on thickness of the sheets. But the dryer’s temperature gauge and instrumentation had broken down years before and were never replaced, so it was effectively manually operated.

“That night the dryer cut out, as it had occasionally before, but it wasn’t spotted because the night shift workers did not normally work in the oven room.

“In addition the company hadn’t identified the risk of an explosion from the flammable vapour if sheets were not totally dry so no effective safeguards had been implemented.

“It was an incident that could have, and should have, been avoided. With any such industrial process, the fire and explosion risks must be fully assessed and then controls put in place.”

Flexitallic was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £1,588 costs after it pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety Act 1974.

A spokesman for the Flexitallic said: “This was an isolated incident. It was fully investigated at the time, appropriate action was taken and, where necessary, policies and procedures were reviewed.”