Middle Wallop company fined six-figure sum after fatal explosion

The scene of the explosion in 2006

The scene of the explosion in 2006

First published in Business

A HAMPSHIRE company has been ordered to pay £376,000 in fines and costs for safety failings that caused a fatal explosion at its factory.

Wallop Defence Systems Ltd has been ordered to pay after Anthony Sheridan, 37, from Over Wallop, was killed at Middle Wallop near Stockbridge in June 2006.

Mr Sheridan was emptying one of six industrial ovens used in the manufacture of military flares.

The ovens contained high levels of nitroglycerin (NG) that exploded, causing an explosion that destroyed the factory building. Several other workers were injured in the incident, with blast debris landing up to 600ft away.

Winchester Crown Court heard today that WDS had realised in 2004 that their process for curing pellets as part of the production of military flares produced the explosive chemical as a by-product.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive found that none of the company’s senior management team or technical advisers were competent to deal with the NG issue, but did not seek external professional assistance.

Reviewing the company’s procedures since NG was discovered in 2004, HSE found WDS was not complying with the basics in explosive safety and failed to adhere to licensing requirements for the storage and processing of explosive substances.

Their failure to properly assess and manage the risks put workers and the public in danger.

A second explosion occurred in December 2008 when the company attempted to dismantle the remaining NG contaminated oven on the company’s second site. No one was injured in the explosion.

The court heard that the company failed to engage with the HSE and seek competent expert advice on dismantling it and that the incident was entirely foreseeable and avoidable.

Wallop Defence Systems, of Craydown Lane, Middle Wallop was fined a total of £266,000 and ordered to pay £110,000 in costs for three breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, two relating to the fatal explosion and the other to the second blast.

The company pleaded guilty to all three breaches in an earlier hearing at Andover Magistrates Court.

In a victim statement Anthony’s sister, Tracy Sheridan, said: “The loss of Anthony has been massively devastating on the whole family and particularly on me.We were very close.

“Anthony was involved with the whole family and particularly my children. He played a big role in my children’s lives and they still talk about him.

“He was a friendly person and liked by all, including all of his work mates at Wallop.

“The family have gradually come to terms with Anthony’s loss, although this was made even more difficult with the devastating injuries he suffered. The family wasn’t able to lay an open coffin, an Irish tradition and say goodbye in a traditional way.”

Speaking after sentencing, Qamar Khan, Principal Inspector for HSE’s explosives team, added: “Anthony Sheridan suffered horrifying injuries in the explosion that caused his death.

“Both this explosion and the subsequent blast in December 2008 were foreseeable and preventable had the company sought and taken appropriate advice and implemented the correct measures.

“If these steps had been taken Anthony Sheridan would still be alive. It is especially concerning that despite issues with the factory being reported to senior WDS management, nothing materially changed to safeguard employees and the public.

“The company deluded itself that everything was OK and in hand. Companies working with dangerous substances must take extreme care at all times and in all aspects of their operations. That clearly didn’t happen here, and the consequences were tragic.”

Ken Smart, managing director of Wallpop Defence Systems said this afternoon: “He (the judge) also made a number of very positive comments regarding both the changes since Esterline’s take over and the very real advances in culture. He referred to the ‘substantial steps taken by Esterline to deal with safety’; a ‘state of the art review’ resulting in £11million investment in Vulcan with which rivals were very impressed; the full replacement of the Board (and the increased governance by US members); and a ‘root and branch review’ leading to a more interventionist approach.”

Esterline bought Wallop Defence Systems just 3 months prior to the incident in 2006.

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