Chipboard firm fined record £2million after worker burned to death after health and safety failings

Chipboard firm fined record £2million after worker burned to death after health and safety failings

Chipboard firm is fined record £2million after worker burned to death when he was bombarded with lava-like debris due to health and safety failings

  • The health and safety failings led to the tragic death of 64-year-old George Laird
  • The fine is the Scottish record for a case involving the death of a single individual
  • Mr Laird burned to death in the accident when he was hit with lava-like debris

A company has been fined more than £2 million after being found guilty of catastrophic health and safety failings which led to the tragic incident of a worker being burned to death.

A court imposed the Scottish record fine of £2,125,000 on Norbord Europe Ltd after they were held responsible for the death of George Laird.

Mr Laird, 64, died at the company’s plant in Cowie, Stirlingshire, when he was bombarded with hot ash, steam and boiling water which caused 90 per cent burns to his body.

The ‘full thickness’ burns – caused by lava-like debris – were so severe that Mr Laird had no chance of recovery. The 64-year-old died in hospital the following day.

Mr Laird had worked for the company for 35 years and was believed to have handed in his notice to retire from work just days before the accident.

The exterior of the wood drier at Norbord Europe Limited is pictured. George laird, 64, died at the company’s plant in Cowie, Stirlingshire, in an accident where he was burned to death

Imposing the fine after a jury found the company guilty of both charges it faced, Sheriff William Wood said it bore a ‘high level of culpability’ for its failings.

He said a lack of safety protocols meant employees had to take it upon themselves to devise methods of clearing hot ash from the base of a combustion chamber.

The company’s £2,125,000 fine is a Scottish record for a case involving the death of a single individual. Transco was fined £15m for a gas blast which killed a family of four in 1999.

Sheriff Wood added that the decision to use a fire-hose to shoot 7,500 litres of cold water into the chamber had been ‘catastrophic’ and directly led to Mr Laird’s tragic death.

Sheriff Wood said: ‘It came into contact with George Laird, causing him catastrophic injuries from which he succumbed the next day. There can be no doubt these are serious charges.

‘The waste coming down the chute was described as being like lava because of the quantity of it,’ Sheriff Wood said.

‘Water was able to heat, expand and ultimately explode out of the chute and into the room below, where George Laird was working, with tragic consequences.

‘George Laird died because there were no adequate safeguards in place. He died because there was no adequate risk assessment on the day.’

A jury at Perth Sheriff Court found the company guilty after a month-long trial of being responsible for health and safety failings which led to Mr Laird’s death.

The company, which is now part of international lumber processing group West Fraser, was found guilty of two charges relating to the tragedy in July 2016.

The jury found that the company had failed to ensure the health and safety of its workers for more than a year prior to the fatal explosion on 13 July.

Norbord failed to ensure a safe system of work for employees who were inspecting or removing hot ash from the area below the combustion chamber.

Norbord Europe Ltd has been fined more than £2 million after being found guilty of health and safety failings which led to the death of an employee. The exterior of the combustion chamber at their Stirlingshire plant is pictured

Norbord Europe Ltd has been fined more than £2 million after being found guilty of health and safety failings which led to the death of an employee. The exterior of the combustion chamber at their Stirlingshire plant is pictured

The company was found guilty of allowing its staff to devise their own methods of working to remove hot ash from the gas duct in the particle board line drier system.

Workers were found to be at risk of injury or death between 1 October 2014 and 13 July 2016 – when staff decided to fire water into the chamber using a high-pressure fire hose.

The court was told that staff decided to rapidly shoot around 7,000 litres of cold water into the furnace-like pile of hot ash and the effect was like an explosion.

Mr Laird was dowsed in scalding hot water, steam and hot ash, and he sustained full-thickness burns which covered almost his entire body.

The jury found the company guilty of the second charge of failing to complete a suitable and sufficient risk assessment to cover the health and safety of workers on site.

They ruled that the company had ‘an absence of procedures and precautions’ before staff decided to pump water into the hot ash pile with devastating effects.

In common with the first charge, Mr Laird’s death from horrific burn injuries was a direct consequence of the statutory failure to follow a risk assessment.

The court had heard that the company had written procedures in place, but that employees had not been made properly aware of them.

Counsel for the company, Mark Stewart QC, claimed the company accepted it had not carried out a risk assessment but could not be held responsible for the decision to fire cold water into hot ash.

A court imposed the Scottish record fine of £2,125,000 on Norbord Europe Ltd after they were held responsible for the death of George Laird

A court imposed the Scottish record fine of £2,125,000 on Norbord Europe Ltd after they were held responsible for the death of George Laird

He said previous ‘near-misses’ on site and other identified problems with the combustion chamber were not related in any way to the final explosion.

‘It is difficult to see the connection between that and the explosion and ejection of a vast amount of steam and ash and hot water,’ Mr Stewart said.

‘It wasn’t expected by anyone. The system was derailed by two employees. They did something wrong and one can’t shy away from that.

‘The introduction of such a quantity of cold water into such a hot place was, of course, substantially dangerous. The company accepts that because of the failure of these two men there was no risk assessment.

‘The failure that caused the death of Mr Laird was what they did next. The injection of cold water was unforeseeable and an act of folly of such magnitude that no-one could ever foresee these skilled men doing such a thing.

‘This only happened because these men knowingly went on to break the rules. They knew by putting water in there that steam would be produced.

‘The risk of explosion should have been looked at. The water is the start of the whole problem. It was inherently dangerous.’

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Christian Oliver

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