“There has been no justice” - company fined £145k over explosion which killed two workers
PUBLISHED: 14:18 27 July 2018 | UPDATED: 17:03 27 July 2018
Families of two men killed in a factory explosion three years ago have said they are “disgusted” after the company responsible was fined £145,000 for safety breaches.
Barry Joy, 56, and Daniel Timbers, 28, had been working at a factory on Spar Road on July 13, 2015, when the paint booth they were working in exploded and turned into a fireball.
Their employer, Harford Attachments Ltd, since admitted two breaches of health and safety practices, and was fined £145,000 today after Norwich Crown Court heard the company was “at the brink of its existence”.
The firm admitted failing to ensure both workers were not exposed to risk of death or serious injury from fire or explosion, and failing to control sources of ignition present in the paint spray booth and surrounding areas.
Jonathan Ashley-Norman, prosecuting, told the court the deaths had been “tragic, sudden and unnecessary”.
The two men had been spraying digger buckets in a spray booth which had been purchased from the RAF for the new factory, but had not had a risk assessment before “the commencement of full scale operations,” Mr Ashley-Norman said.
He said the accident was caused by the workers discharging paint into a 200 litre drum inside the booth.
“The consequence of these actions were that the drum effectively became a bomb, because it held within it flammable paint and thinners, but also vapours being given off which were highly flammable,” he said.
“This action caused vapour to enter the paint booth, and consequently came into touch with one of a large number of potential sources of ignition, and consequently, and foreseeably, exploded.”
He added a subsequent HSE investigation revealed “there had been no risk assessment undertaken for the activities taking place in the paint booth.”
“The regulations which governed activities such as these had not been complied with. Over the years the company had been warned of its failure to attend to these matters.”
A “complete apology” was offered to the families of Mr Joy and Mr Timbers on behalf of the company by Ben Compton, mitigating.
He said: “The deepest sympathies go to the families who have suffered and continue to suffer.
“Genuinely from this company there is enormous contrition for what went wrong. Nick Timbers seems to blame himself for the safety and welfare of the paint booth and says he failed. He did not fail. He has no responsibility whatsoever for this accident.
“The loss of life and causation are completely down to the company.”
But Mr Compton asked for a “lenient” fine, as the company had been through financial hardship since the incident, and still employs around 40 people.
“This wasn’t some sort of cowboy set up,” he said. “It wasn’t a case of profit before safety.”
He said while the new factory on Spar Road was being set up, the safety of the spray booth “dropped under the radar”.
“There was no one really in charge of health and safety with the expertise to deal with a very specialist piece of kit,” he said. “There was no one person holding the reins saying this must be done before any people go into that booth.
“It may be the company, when it came to the spray booth, was simply out of its depth. Since then this company has spent enormous amount of money on putting things right.”
He added the firm is in a “parlous position”, as it is paying off more than £220,000 of invoices to the Health and Safety Executive for interventions.
“This offence has taken the company to the brink of its existence, but it is still there and hopefully will survive,” Mr Compton added.
Judge Stephen Holt, sentencing, told the families: “I have not lost sight that at the heart of this was a very real tragedy.
“It is ironic the purpose of going to these new premises was to provide a far better and safer workplace. It is clear no risk assessment had been carried out for the method of cleaning. It would have revealed the dangers that were clearly there.
“The deaths of Barry Joy and Daniel Timbers have devastated so many lives. Nobody must feel it is their fault. It is the company who has responsibility. Those who feel guilty, please do not. It is not your fault.
“It is the company to blame.”
Harford Attachments Ltd will have seven years to pay off £145,000, with court costs of £65,900.
After sentencing was passed, Steve Kidd, managing director of Harford Attachments Ltd, said: “The company would wish to repeat its deepest regret for the incident, and our sympathies go out to the two families.
“Many substantial changes have been made so to ensure safe working systems and practices.”
Nick Timbers, father of Daniel, said after sentencing “there has been no justice” for his son or Mr Joy.
“We would like to thank the HSE and all the emergency services for what they have done,” he said.
But he added: “We are disgusted. The fine is miniscule. How can you put a price of £145,000 on two lives? There doesn’t seem to be any remorse there, and there has been no personal apology from Mr Kidd or Mrs Kidd, just formal apologies through lawyers.
“There will never be closure for us. We have just got to try to live with the situation and put it to the back of our minds now.”
Ash Timbers, Daniel’s brother, added: “It has been a long hard three years for both families, for it all to come to an end with no serious punishment for the directors while it will be a life long torment for both families. “The fact they failed in so many places and are allowed to continue trading is beyond us all. Two lives have been lost in a factory which should have been safe.”
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found the immediate cause of the explosion to be the inconsistent and incomplete approach to health and safety by the company and its employees.
This resulted in the lack of suitable control measures; specifically, a suitable and sufficient safe system of work for the activities in the spray booth.
After sentencing, they called the explosion a “wholly avoidable” incident, with a warning to other companies over safety standards.
Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Keith Waller said: “This was a tragic and wholly avoidable incident, caused by the failure of the company to implement safe systems of work, and failure to ensure that health and safety documentation was communicated and followed.
“Companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.”