Sterecycle (Rotherham) Limited, a waste management company, was found guilty of corporate manslaughter and fined £500,000 following the death of an employee at the firm’s plant in South Yorkshire in January 2011. Sterecycle ceased operations in October 2012 after having been placed into administration. It is uncertain how much of the £500,000 fine will be recovered.
The incident was caused by a failing autoclave door that burst under pressure resulting in a fatal head injury to one employee and life-changing injuries to another employee. A joint investigation, conducted by South Yorkshire Police (SYP) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), uncovered that there had been longstanding issues with the autoclave doors that had not been properly rectified. The autoclaves were modified without adequate consideration of how this would affect other equipment; safety devices were removed to speed up production and breakdowns were speedily fixed without investigating the root cause of the problems. Eventually, these safety shortcomings resulted in the failure of a screw connection to the autoclave locking ring that secured the door to the machine which caused the explosion.
Accordingly, Sterecycle was found guilty of corporate manslaughter at Sheffield Crown Court on Friday (November 7). Sterecycle’s operations director and operations manager were earlier acquitted of charges under section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and a former maintenance manager, who appeared before the jury charged with perverting the course of justice, was found not guilty of this charge.
Detective Sergeant Rob Platts, who lead the investigation for SYP, commented:
“I am pleased with the verdict reached today as it recognises the systemic failings of a company who had a duty of care to its employees. The company was aware of a longstanding issue with the autoclave doors and made no effort to repair the problem properly, putting the lives of their employees at risk. Because of the company’s inexcusable neglect, a man lost his life in a completely avoidable incident.”
HSE Inspector Carol Downes accused Sterecycle of “lacking competence” in the operation of steam pressured autoclave systems, she said:
“Sterecycle (Rotherham) Ltd didn’t properly understand the risks of, and lacked the competence in, operating steam pressure autoclave systems. Modifications were made to the autoclaves without adequately considering the effect on the equipment; safety devices were removed because they slowed production; and when breakdowns occurred ‘running repairs’ were made without ever getting to the root cause of the problems. Employees were inadequately trained and felt in genuine fear for their safety at the site. The view was taken that production should be maintained at all costs….This terrible incident was entirely preventable. The clear standards and strict inspection regimes set out in the regulations were totally neglected by the company.”
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