A West Yorkshire firm has been fined £250,000 for safety offences after a gas explosion in an industrial bakery oven ripped through its factory – killing a worker and badly injuring another.
Andrew Jones Pies, of Huddersfield, which is now in administration, was also told by a judge at York Crown Court to pay £124,896 in costs.
Imposing the penalty, the judge said the company had ‘failed dismally’ and that, though he understood the company was not in a position to pay the fines and costs, his judgement reflected the level of failings by the company.
The explosion at Andrew Jones Pies in Old Leeds Road, Huddersfield, happened after baker David Cole made apparent repeated attempts to light the 30-year-old oven unaware that more and more gas was building up to a critical flashpoint inside the baking chamber.
When the gas did ignite, the blast blew the large oven door off its hinges hitting Mr Cole. The 37-year-old baker, who was standing in front of the oven, was hit by the door and then trapped when part of the roof collapsed.
Mr Cole, of Salterhebble, Halifax, who had worked for the company for 12 years, was pronounced dead at the scene. A colleague, Marcus Cartwright of Crossland Moor, Huddersfield, was also badly injured.
The former award-winning pie company, now in administration, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after its investigation into the incident four years ago found serious safety breaches.
The court had heard that Mr Cole, a supervisor, had started work early so he could light the two large ovens before other workers arrived. One had apparently failed to light and at around 5am it exploded, killing Mr Cole, injuring his colleague and causing severe damage to the building.
HSE found the company’s procedures for operating the ovens were inadequate and informal. The bakery workers had not been given sufficient instruction or training in their use, or the potential hazards arising and precautions necessary to operate them safely.
The company failed to appreciate that direct-fired ovens could potentially fill with a flammable mix of gas and air if repeated unsuccessful attempts were made to fire them up.
The investigation also discovered that an explosion relief panel on the back of the oven, which should have safely vented excess pressure, had at some time been rigidly fixed in place.
The modification may, however, have pre-dated the firm’s ownership of the ovens.
After the hearing HSE inspector, John Micklethwaite, said: “The explosion could have been avoided if the correct lighting-up procedures had been followed. No more than two attempts to light the oven should have been made. If the oven still failed to light, engineers should have been called in.
“Large gas oven explosions are known, but rare. HSE issued a Safety Alert after this incident to similar companies asking them to check the explosion reliefs on all direct fired bakery ovens.”