Tata Steel UK has been fined £30,000 after a court heard about a potentially lethal incident at its Scunthorpe plant.
The accident involved flames up to three metres in length shooting from a leaking gas pipe during “poorly planned and executed repair work”, an investigation by the Health & Safety Executive found.
The incident resulted in minor facial burns for one of a two-man repair team involved, although Scunthorpe Magistrates heard that both workers were “extremely fortunate” not to have been engulfed in the blaze.
The court was told that coke oven gas was detected leaking from an overhead pipe feeding the central power station at the plant on 25 February 2009.
Work to repair a small hole in the pipe using a bung and resin was initially postponed until the following day, but that technique then had to be abandoned when it widened to a “fist-sized” defect.
An alternative repair was suggested, but as a Tata employee attempted to put the first screw in place, the live gas in the pipe ignited, sending a jet of flames shooting from the hole, the HSE found.
The workers, one of whom was an external contractor, were just inches from the blast.
Tata Steel UK pleaded guilty to two separate breaches of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 and was fined a total of £30,000 and ordered to pay £1,696 in costs.
“This was a serious incident and a very near miss for those involved,” said HSE inspector John Moran.
“Thankfully on this occasion a full recovery from the injuries sustained was possible, but it could easily have resulted in a double fatality, and it is a matter of chance that it didn’t. This poorly managed repair was gambling with people’s lives by putting them in positions of extreme risk.”