Atomic weapons firm in safety rap

29 May 2013

An atomic weapons company in Berkshire has been ordered to pay more than £280,000 in fines and costs for major safety failings after a worker was injured.

Ashley Emery, 29, suffered burns to his face and arm when dealing with explosive materials at the Aldermaston base of Atomic Weapons Establishment PLC (AWE PLC) on 3 August 2010.

Reading Crown Court was told on 28 May that the incident happened when Mr Emery was dealing with two volatile agents, dry nitrocellulose (NC) and methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), as part of the process of producing a lacquer.

After combining the substances he moved away from the mixture, removed his respirator and returned to take a closer look, when a fireball was produced.

Mr Emery managed to get away before the fire spread, causing severe damage to the building.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the incident could have been avoided if the company had properly recognised the hazards of working with dry NC and put the appropriate safeguards in place.

Although the firm held data sheets outlining the potential risks and guidance about using NC and MEK, they were not given sufficient consideration.

The HSE also identified safety issues relating to the storage of hazardous materials and different explosives processes being carried out at the same time.

AWE Plc, of Aldermaston, near Reading, pleaded guilty to a single breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

In addition to the £200,000 fine it was ordered to pay £80,258 in costs and £2,500 in compensation to the injured man.

Copyright Press Association 2013

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