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UK defence company admits misjudgements in fatal nitroglycerin explosion

19 October 2012

Anthony Sheridan, 37, from Over Wallop, Hampshire, died in the blast at Wallop Defence Systems in June 2006. He had been emptying an oven containing flare pellets when the nitroglycerin, a by-product of the process, exploded. WDS previously pleaded guilty to breaching safety regulations. The firm will be sentenced on 9 November.

Winchester Crown Court heard that WDS had been making decoy flares for the Ministry of Defence and a 2004 report had recognised that the pellet curing process inside low-temperature ovens created nitroglycerin as a by-product.

Prosecutor Mark Harris told the court that measures had been taken by the company after it had been identified as a "serious explosive risk".

WDS set up a cleaning process but failed to carry out a series of risk assessments, he said.

The court was also told that bins to store the volatile chemical were not emptied for a year and left outside, risking an explosion as the substance crystallised.

Mr Harris said: "There was no conscious decision to take a shortcut for commercial gain but the pressure to increase production caused the management to be highly negligent in addressing the risks at the time."

He also said the company did not have a licence to store a hazard such as nitroglycerin.

The Ministry of Defence asked the company to hand over its design for the flares to another company who had managed to cure the pellets and not produce nitroglycerin, the court heard.

The court was also told that there had been a further fire and explosion in 2008 when the company was dismantling one of the ovens. No one was hurt because the site had been evacuated but the company had not asked for advice from the Health and Safety Executive beforehand.

Mr Sheridan was blown 29 metres by the explosion on 26 June 2006, that also sprinkled debris more than 300 metres.

An inquest into his death in 2009 recorded a narrative verdict, which found that he had not been trained to handle nitroglycerin.

WDS pleaded guilty at a previous court hearing to breaching Section 2 and Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act from 2004 to 2006 in connection to the death, and to a further Section 2 breach for the second explosion.

It admitted it had failed in its duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of Mr Sheridan and other workers.

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