Tata fined £200,000 after lights fail during steel plant accident

The lights at a Tata steel factory in Wales failed 'completely' during an accident in which 300 tonnes of molten metal was spilled.

Three employees suffered serious burns as a result of the accident at Tata Strip Products in Port Talbot in April 2013.

Tata pleaded guilty at Swansea Crown Court to failing to ensure the safety of workers, and was fined £200,000 ($309,000), and asked to pay £11,190 ($17,260) costs.

Employees at the factory described lighting as ‘poor’ – and during the accident it cut out entirely.

50-year-old trainee crane driver Kelvin Watts, from Port Talbot, was operating an electric overhead crane with two trainers present when the accident happened.

Watts picked up the full ladle containing 300 tonnes of molten metal, but because the crane’s camera system was not working, he was relying on the plant control room to tell him whether it was properly attached.

When he reversed the crane, the ladle dislodged and spilled its load on the floor, which then caught fire. Flames quickly reached the cab of the crane, resulting in burns to the three men as they tried to escape.

Watts suffered severe burns on his head and forearms and spent several days in hospital. He has since suffered repeated infections and has been unable to return to work. His two colleagues were less severely burned and are back at work - although neither can face driving the cranes or entering the area where the accident happened.

The court heard that the crane’s camera system had not been operating properly for some time, despite the problem having been reported.

A Tata spokesman told Lux: 'We carried out a detailed and thorough investigation and various measures have been improved. Lighting was one of those.'

A new camera system has been installed and safety procedures have been tightened up, the company said.

HSE inspector Joanne Carter said: ‘There was clear evidence at Tata Steel of poor maintenance, inconsistent training and managers misunderstanding the problems faced by operators. Given the potential consequences of a ladle holding 300 tonnes  of molten metal spilling its load on to the floor, control measures should be watertight. The incident could have been avoided had the safety measures introduced afterwards been in place at the time.’

David Wright, chairman of emergency lighting body ICEL, said: ‘The emergency lighting manufacturers forming ICEL have been working for many years to introduce credible product standards and produce suitable design and application standards to ensure that appropriate emergency lighting is correctly installed in places of work.

‘ICEL worked with the British and international standards bodies to identify the required criteria for escape route lighting, anti-panic  lighting and high risk task lighting. Emergency lighting is most commonly associated with loss of the normal mains supply but of course accidents and fire can cause the normal lighting to fail, and this is when a good emergency lighting system is most valuable.

‘This type of lighting can easily be achieved by utilising various emergency lighting solutions provided by ICEL members. These solutions would require relatively low capital investment and could significantly reduce the risk of death or injury.’

Comments 1

This is a "perfect example" of both inadequate design of a system and a policy of proceeding without first verifying that the prior step has been completed. If the video system was not functioning then a manual direct visual inspection was in order, which was not done. If the control system sensing to verify that the attachment was inadequate then it needed to be corrected. And if the operator was not able to discern by feel that the load was not correctly attached, then clearly more education was required. It is clear that a whole lot of errors were made, leading to this disaster. Ignoring the lack of adequate verification of proper hookup was the biggest mistake.

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