healthsafetyA Surrey breaker company has been fined after a teenage worker was badly burned when a skip fire exploded.

The injured worker, who was just 15 at the time, was engulfed by a fireball as he used petrol as an accelerant to burn scrap car parts, suffering serious burns to his face, neck, chest and arms. The injuries covered almost a quarter of his body.

A second worker, also a teenager, sustained minor flash burns in the incident at a site belonging to Grublogger Ltd at Brookside Farm in Salfords, near Redhill, on 24 March 2012.

The Tadworth-based company, which specialises in the trade of used Jaguar spares, was prosecuted (22 July) by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation identified serious concerns with systems and methods of work.

Redhill Magistrates’ Court heard that both injured workers, neither of whom want to be named, were amongst a number of teens employed by the firm to strip down old Jaguar cars and salvage parts to sell on as spares.

Grublogger rented a unit at Brookside Farm and had access to a skip that the site landlord allowed to be used as a makeshift waste incinerator by tenants.

On the day of the fire the injured workers had been instructed to burn unwanted parts in the skip using petrol that had been siphoned off from old cars.

HSE established that they did so with the blessing of the Grublogger managing director, who authorised the practice and who regularly sanctioned this means of disposal.

The seriously burned worker had removed his t-shirt before the fireball erupted because it was a hot day. He was treated at the specialist burns unit at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford before being released with a warning that his damaged skin would be extremely vulnerable to further harm from the sun that summer.

The court was told it was completely unnecessary to burn the unwanted parts in the skip, and that the workers had received no formal training or instruction. They had been left to their own devices, and opted for a method that posed a clear risk.

HSE inspectors also identified failings with the storage and control of petrol and sources of ignition in the company’s workshop at the industrial site.

Grublogger Ltd, of Brighton Road, Lower Kingswood, Tadworth, was fined a total of £23,000 and ordered to pay £5,113 in costs after pleading guilty to single breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

After the hearing HSE Inspector Andrew McGill commented:

“This was a wholly preventable incident arising from a clearly dangerous practice that should never have been allowed.

“Young people need careful management and proper supervision in the workplace, with the onus on dutyholders to provide additional protection because they inherently lack experience and maturity. The training, instruction and supervision in this case were clearly inadequate in this regard.

“There was no need to use the skip as an incinerator, and if burning waste was the preferred method of disposal then it should have been done properly, using the proper equipment and with proper management and control measures.”