A car salvage firm has been ordered to pay £65,000 after a mechanic suffered serious burns when the inspection pit he was working in burst into flames.
Preston Crown Court heard that Lee Roberts was in the pit to remove fuel from a van at Douglas Valley Breakers Ltd’s workshop, on Blainscough Lane, Coppull, on July 22, 2010.
In CCTV footage shown to the court, flames started coming from the pit, and Mr Roberts, 33, was seen fleeing with clothing on fire.
Doctors put Mr Roberts, who lives in Wigan, in an induced coma, as he had suffered burns to 22 per cent of his body, mainly to his hands, legs and nose.
It was the company’s policy that a bowser was used to siphon fuel, but instead the petrol tank was pierced and the fuel was drained into a container in the pit, Adrian Farrow, prosecuting, said.
There was a risk of the fuel spilling or being blown onto the employee’s clothing, and the vapours could accumulate in the pit.
An investigation found the most likely cause of the fire was a spark from an electric drill or an extension lead in the pit.
Examination of CCTV footage found other safety issues, including several instances of workers climbing up storage racks and riding on the forks of a telehandler to reach items.
There were also no fire detectors and alarms, and staff had not been given adequate fire safety training, the court heard.
The firm’s directors, Jason Miller and Stephen Strange, pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Dangerous Substances And Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002, one breach of the Work At Height Regulations 2005, and two breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
John Cooper, defending, said the firm had a turnover of £2.5m last year and employed 16 people at its three sites – one in Coppull and two in Standish, Wigan.
He told the court that a bowser was present and there was a specific tool to pierce the fuel tank for “rare instances” when it could not be used.
Instructions had been given to employees of where to assemble if there was a fire and there was a trained fire marshal, the court heard.
He said they had spent £36,000 buying the telehandler and had carried out a risk assessment.
Mr Cooper said: “What has happened here is a huge shock to this company. It has provoked a great deal of thinking into what has occurred here. They have taken steps to make sure this can’t possibly happen again.”
Judge Anthony Russell QC, Recorder of Preston, ordered the firm to pay a £40,000 fine and prosecution costs of £25,000.
After the hearing, Mr Roberts said: “I still remember the noise of the petrol fumes igniting. The pain was instant and intense.
“Even now, more than three years later, I still suffer flashbacks that cause me to wake in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. I haven’t been able to work since the accident and feel that I no longer want to be a car dismantler – the only trade I have ever known.”