A former west Yorkshire food manufacturer — Andrew Jones Pies, of Huddersfield, which is now in administration — has been ordered to pay £375,000, after a gas explosion ripped through its bakery oven, killing a father of two and seriously injuring another worker.
Speaking on Friday (March 8), following the guilty verdict delivered last month, a judge at York Crown Court said the company had “failed dismally”. He added that while the company was not in a position to pay the fines and costs, the judgement reflected the level of failings by the company.
The fatal explosion at Andrew Jones Pies in Old Leeds Road, Huddersfield, happened after baker David Cole repeatedly tried to light the 30-year-old oven on April 10 2009. He was unaware that gas was building up inside the baking chamber, resulting in a blast which blew the large oven door off its hinges hitting the baker.
The 37-year-old worker – who was standing in front of the oven – was then trapped when part of the roof collapsed.
Cole, of Salterhebble, Halifax, who had worked for the company for 12 years, was pronounced dead at the scene. His colleague, Marcus Cartwright of Crossland Moor, Huddersfield, was also badly injured.
A jury at Leeds Crown Court found the company guilty of safety breaches last month and the case was adjourned for sentencing to York Crown Court.
‘Inadequate and informal’
A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation revealed the company’s procedures for operating the ovens were “inadequate and informal". The HSE said: “The bakery workers had not been given sufficient instruction or training in their use, or the potential hazards arising and precautions necessary to operate them safely.”
The firm failed to appreciate direct-fired ovens could fill with a flammable mix of gas and air if repeated unsuccessful attempts were made to start them.
The investigation also discovered that an explosion relief panel on the back of the oven, which should have safely vented excess pressure, had been rigidly fixed in place. But the modification may have pre-dated the firm’s ownership of the ovens, it noted.
Andrew Jones Pies, now registered with the administrator in Ossett, near Wakefield, was found guilty of a breach of the Dangerous Substances and Explosives Atmospheres Regulations 2002 between April 26 2007 and April 10 2009. The firm was also found guilty of two breaches of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 between the same dates.
The firm was fined £250,000 for safety offences and ordered to pay £124,896 in costs.
‘David was not at fault’
Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector John Micklethwaite said: “The tragic death of Mr Cole in this incident was devastating for his wife and family. I hope that the conclusion of the case will help to provide a degree of closure for David’s bereaved family, friends and former colleagues. The judge commented clearly that David was not at fault.
“The explosion could have been avoided if the correct lighting-up procedures had been followed. No more than two attempts to light the oven should have been made. If the oven still failed to light, engineers should have been called in.”
Micklethwaite added that large gas oven explosions “are known, but rare”.
Meanwhile, the HSE issued a safety alert after this incident, asking bakeries to check the explosion reliefs on all direct fired bakery ovens.