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Steel company fined £500,000 after worker died from fall into liquid waste

Global steel company Tata was fined £500,000 for serious safety breaches today after a worker died when he fell into a channel carrying slag waste at 1,500 degrees Celsius when covers had been removed for maintenance and not replaced.

Kevin Downey, 49, was working on a night shift on the Number 4 Blast Furnace at the Port Talbot steelworks when the incident happened on 25 April 2006. At the time, the company was operating as Corus.

Swansea Crown Court heard that Mr Downey, of Port Talbot, had over 30 years' experience working on the blast furnaces when the incident happened. It was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which brought the prosecution.

The court was told that it was believed Mr Downey went to the cast house at the site to inspect the slag pool, which was due to close for maintenance work during the day shift.

While he was on a veranda area, steam from a granulator became acute forcing him to leave. He tried to retrace his steps through the dense steam but visibility may have been as little as three feet and he fell into the open section of a channel that was running slag at 1,500 degrees Celsius. He attempted to climb out and was helped out by workers who heard his cries. Although conscious he died later the same day.

HSE's investigation found that the company had a reporting system which showed a significant number of near misses where steam had led to dangerous situations with the potential to injure workers or damage equipment.

It was also common practice to operate the furnace with sections of channels - or runners - left uncovered without taking additional precautions to prevent anyone from falling in.

Tata Steels UK Ltd, of Millbank, London, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay £57,487 in costs.


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