Firm pays more than £100,000 after workers engulfed in fireball


An international packaging film manufacturer has been fined £90,000 after two workers suffered life-threatening injuries when they were engulfed by a ‘fireball’ at a factory in Cumbria.

Innovia Films Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following an investigation into the cause of the fire at the plant in Wigton on 13 September 2006.

Carlisle Crown Court heard that on the previous day there was a small fire in a circuit compartment of an electrical distribution box at the factory. Workers put out the flames with a CO2 extinguisher and then re-routed the power supply to an undamaged switch so that cooling equipment, which is used to maintain production quality, could continue to operate.

The following day, an engineer and an apprentice were asked to plate over the damaged circuit compartment to prevent it from being accessed until it had been properly inspected. They were removing debris from the compartment when an explosive arc of electrical energy engulfed them, setting their clothes on fire.

They ran into an a next door room where colleagues used a fire hose to extinguish the flames.

The engineer, who suffered burns to 47% of his body, was in a coma for four weeks, remained in hospital for five months and will never be able to return to work. The apprentice suffered 42% burns to his hands, arms and torso, and spent nine weeks in hospital.

The court was told that a suitable risk assessment had not been carried out for the work, and that management at the company had allowed it to go ahead without the electricity supply being isolated.

Mark Dawson, HSE principal inspector for Cumbria, said:

"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.

"If the factory had been shut down for just a day-and-a-half, then neither of the workers would have suffered severe burns."

Innovia Films Ltd, which employs 850 people at the site, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 by putting workers' lives at risk. The company was ordered to pay £26,790 towards the cost of the prosecution in addition to the fine of £90,000 on 18 July 2011

In mitigation, the firm said it had taken immediate action, in the wake of the incident, to review its risk assessment and operating procedures. It now ensures that all engineering work is properly planned before a permit-to-work is issued. It had no previous convictions and told the court that it had a good safety record.