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Tata Steels fined £120,000 after worker suffered serious injuries at Port Talbot steelworks

Aug 17, 2023Aug 17, 2023

Gavin Rowlands, an employee of sub-contractor Monolithic, suffered a broken jaw and a bleed on the brain in the incident

Tata Steels has been fined £120,000 after an employee of a sub-contractor was knocked unconscious and suffered a bleed on the brain following an incident at the Port Talbot steelworks. A court heard the victim had "mercifully" made a good recovery.

Gavin Rowlands, an employee of Monolithic Refractories Ltd, was injured on April 3, 2017, while using a refractory mixer. A sentencing hearing at Swansea Crown Court on Wednesday heard the victim was one of three men working with the machinery when its lower door jammed, which had happened on previous occasions.

Mr Rowlands flicked the mixer's toggle switch up and down in an attempt to get the hydraulic door to release while a co-worker picked up a scaffolding bar and used it to strike the door. However, the bar slipped into the mixer, hit its rotating paddles and was flung back out, hitting Mr Rowlands on the head and knocking him unconscious.

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Prosecutor Christian Jowett said Mr Rowlands was knocked unconscious and was taken to hospital by ambulance, where he spent five days receiving treatment. He suffered a broken jaw, a bleed on the brain and the removal of two teeth. He received an operation to fit a plate into his jaw and to drain the bleed on his brain.

Judge Geraint Walters told the court that Mr Rowlands had "mercifully" made a good recovery.

The court heard the door to the mixer had jammed on previous occasions, and staff would try to resolve the problem by flicking the switch on and off - if that didn't work the machine would be turned off, the power supply isolated by electricians, and force used to free the door.

During their on-site training, Monolithic workers had witnessed Tata employees flicking the toggle switch and hitting the door with a hammer to release it. It was later revealed that a cylindrical guard or shoot, preventing risk of employees coming into contact with the dangerous parts of the mixer, had come off between two years and 18 months before the accident.

Tata employee Ian Pugh was said to have raised the issue with a manager about getting the shoot replaced, and could have "knocked one up in five minutes". He was told the issue would be looked into but nothing had been done. Mr Pugh described the situation like "knocking your head against a brick wall".

Tata Steels UK Ltd late pleaded guilty to two offences contrary to section two and three of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, namely failing to ensure safety of employees and failing to ensure safety of non employees. Monolithic Refractories Ltd were acquitted of failing to ensure safety of employees following a trial in October last year.

Mr Jowett argued Tata Steels had; failed to identify the missing shoot or guard, and the fact the hydraulic door was jamming; failing to identify an unsafe system of work developed to unjam the door and caused risk to employees; and failed to identify or provide adequate adequate guarding for the mixer and provide an implement a safe system of work to unjam the door. In all, Jowett said the company had "failed to implement recognised safety standards in the industry".

The court heard Tata Steels had eight previous convictions for various offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and other related legislation. Mr Jowett said fines had been imposed from £10,000 to £1.4m.

In mitigation, Dominic Adamson KC said Tata Steels "wished to express it regrets and apologise" for the effect on Rowlands and the injuries he suffered. He said the company continues to invest in health and safety, but a significant fine could result in the reduction of capital expenditure in remunerative schemes.

Sentencing, Judge Walters said: "There can be no doubt this was a very serious accident and could so easily have been so much worse." He said it was a "measure of luck" that Mr Rowland had made a good recovery and the defect in the machinery could have been "so easily dealt with".

Tata Steels UK Ltd was fined a total of £120,000, reduced from £180,000 following its guilty pleas to the charges. The company was also ordered to pay £14,138 in court costs.

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