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Sellafield Ltd fined £400,000 after worker injured

07 March 2023

Sellafield Ltd has been fined £400,000 after admitting a health and safety breach that resulted in a worker sustaining serious back injuries when he fell from a scaffolding ladder at the nuclear site. The company attended Carlisle Magistrates Court on March 6 following a prosecution prepared by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).

Image: ONR
Image: ONR

An employee of Sellafield Ltd, was carrying out repair work in a low active cell, or chamber, at the Magnox Reprocessing Facility at the Cumbrian site when the accident happened. The maintenance fitter had been tasked with fixing a leaking pipeline within the reprocessing facility that used to receive and process thousands of tonnes of spent or used nuclear fuel from power stations in the UK and abroad.

On 12 October 2021, the fitter and his colleague entered the chamber to carry out repair work, which was slippery due to the leaking acid. The workers had to climb through pipework and up a scaffolding ladder to reach the leaking pipe, while carrying heavy equipment in challenging working conditions.

While attempting to leave the cell and climb down the scaffolding ladder, one of the workers suffered a fall of approximately ten feet which left him badly injured and was taken to hospital. He sustained fractures to his vertebrae, with injuries that have been described as life-changing with his mobility still significantly affected and him not yet having returned to work.

At Carlisle Magistrates Court, Sellafield Ltd pleaded guilty to an offence under Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 for failing to ensure the health and safety of its employees, in relation to the risks arising whilst undertaking maintenance and repair work.

District Judge John Temperley ruled they must pay a fine of £400,000 and pay prosecution costs of £29,210.64.

After the court hearing, Paul Dicks, ONR’s Director of Regulation – Sellafield, Decommissioning Fuel and Waste, said: “We welcome today’s outcome which recognises that Sellafield Ltd fell short in its duty to protect a worker. This accident was entirely avoidable. Nobody should go to work and not come home in a fit and healthy state.

“A thorough investigation by the Office for Nuclear Regulation identified multiple and significant failings by Sellafield Ltd during a prolonged period. There was a failure to adequately plan, organise and deliver this task to repair a leaking pipe. The risks were not adequately controlled and there were failures in the risk assessment.

Image: ONR
Image: ONR

“We concluded that there were several missed opportunities that could have prevented this accident occurring.”

Image (left): A generic example picture of the suit and clothing required to carry out the repair work (not the workers involved in this case).

ONR’s investigation revealed a series of significant failings to provide a safe system of work. It was found how the proposed repair method was repeatedly changed and the potential risks to workers were not suitably considered.

There was also a failure to properly consider how workers could carry a 20kg hydraulic clamp up and down a scaffolding while wearing the additional and bulky clothing needed to enter the chamber.

Mr Dicks added: “Sellafield Ltd co-operated fully with the Office for Nuclear Regulation during this investigation and we welcome their prompt guilty plea. The safety of workers at nuclear facilities remains paramount, and as an independent regulator, we want to see continuing improvements in conventional health and safety on the site. Through our inspectors’ regular scrutiny, we will continue to hold the UK nuclear industry to account in order to protect workers and the public.”

As part of the judge’s determination, he ruled the health and safety breach represented a medium (upper end) culpability and a category 3 level of harm, with Sellafield Ltd classed as a ‘very large organisation’.

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