(Section 2 HSWA)

Bodycote HIP, a multi-national heat treatment company, pleaded guilty at Worcester Crown Court on 24 July 2009 to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act (HSWA) following the deaths of two employees at its manufacturing plant in Hereford. The company’s Works Manager and Maintenance Engineer were found collapsed in a staircase leading to a concrete lined pit. It became apparent that argon gas had leaked from a large pressure vessel and suffocated the employees. It transpired that the ventilation system was not running and the oxygen alarm system had been turned off. Had these systems been in place the deaths may not have occurred.

It became apparent during the investigation that the risk of asphyxiation as a result of argon gas was well known to the company, after Bodycote Group, the group company based in California, had suffered a similar incident three years earlier.

Bodycote HIP had failed to undertake a proper risk assessment for entry into the confined space (staircase and pit) and although they had operated a safe system of work and permit to work procedure, they had not trained their employees properly in the use of these procedures and had not ensured the procedures were being followed through their auditing procedure.

The company was fined £533,000 and ordered to pay costs of £200,000.