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UK horticultural company fined after fatal greenhouse incident

29 October 2014

A horticultural company has been fined after a worker died and three others were seriously injured in an explosion while emptying a pressurised tank used to heat greenhouses. On 24 October, Cantelo Nurseries Ltd of Bradon Farm, Isle Abbotts, Taunton, pleaded guilty to two breaches of health and safety legislation and was fined a total of £80,000 and ordered to pay £59,812 in costs at Taunton Crown Court.

Stock image
Stock image

Peter James of Crewkerne died of head injuries six days after the incident. Two of his workmates had been asked to open the tank in preparation for upgrading work at a nursery at Bradon Farm on 11 May 2010. In addition to Mr James’s fatal injuries, the three other men standing nearby suffered severe injuries.

The court heard that two workers were asked to unbolt a hatch cover from a pressure vessel while there was still pressure in the system. This caused a devastating release of pressure that sent the hatch cover flying across the room followed by a large jet of water that swept everyone present off their feet.

HSE’s investigation found that the work was not properly planned, that workers had not been properly trained or supervised, and that at least one of them spoke very little English, which made it difficult to understand instructions.

The court was told the hatch should not have been removed until all the pressure had been safely released from the system.

HSE Inspector Christine Haberfield, speaking after the hearing, said:

“This tragic incident has cost one man his life and changed the lives of many other people forever. There were simple, sensible and proportionate steps, such as releasing the pressure in the tanks, that could – and should – have been taken to do the work safely.

“All that was needed was a little thought beforehand to ensure that the work was properly planned, carried out by competent people and supervised. Had this been done, this tragedy could have been avoided.

“All employers must ensure any task of this nature, indeed any maintenance or repair task, is properly planned and considered to ensure that sensible precautions can be taken. That includes ensuring all sources of energy are isolated before work begins.”

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