6 January 2014

Sheffield Forgemasters has been fined £120,000 and ordered to pay £125,000 in costs for safety failings that led to an employee dying of carbon dioxide poisoning after the cellar he was working in filled with the deadly gas.

An employee was found unconscious at the South Yorkshire foundry after a confined underground area swiftly flooded with fire-extinguishing mist. Four of his co-workers desperately tried to reach him but were themselves almost overcome by the fast-acting gas.

The employee carried out part of the cable cutting task in an electrical drawpit and then went to carry out the rest of the job in the switchroom cellar, which was only accessible by lifting a manhole cover and dropping down a ladder.

Once underground in the electrical drawpit, Mr Wilkins used a petrol-driven saw to cut through redundant 33,000 volt cables there. He then moved to the nearby switchroom cellar with the saw.

Colleagues later heard the carbon dioxide warning alarms sounding from the cellar. A supervisor and other workmates rushed to help, with several of them trying to get down the ladder from the manhole to rescue the employee.

However, all attempts were defeated as each worker struggled to breathe and remain conscious when exposed to the debilitating concentrated carbon dioxide.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that use of the petrol-driven saw in the switchroom cellar had likely activated a smoke sensor and prompted the release of the carbon dioxide from the fire extinguishing system.

Sheffield Forgemasters had failed to provide any rescue equipment for either the cellar or the drawpit.

Other issues identified included a lack of a risk assessment by the firm for the cable cutting task and failing to provide a safe system of work in either underground location. In addition, there was no secure way to isolate the carbon dioxide fire system while work was going on in the cellar.