A company has been fined over #600,000 after an engineer was burned to death by scalding hot steam as he tried to fix an industrial oven at a factory.
Tragic Mark Bullock suffered 90-per-cent burns in temperatures of up to 280 degrees as he worked on the broken cooker at an animal rendering plant.
The 50-year-old had been on a night shift at John Pointon and Sons, in Cheddleton, Staffs., when one of the ‘lines’ at the factory became blocked.
A court heard the self-employed maintenance engineer entered a confined space in the oven when burning-hot steam entered the equipment.
He was rushed to hospital with catastrophic burns to almost his entire body but died the following day on November 6, 2011.
On Monday (29/6) the firm were fined £660,000 and ordered to pay £187,000 in costs after admitting health and safety breaches at Stafford Crown Court.
Judge Michael Chambers QC ruled the dad-of-three was exposed to serious risks – including the lack of a risk assessment and just one ‘overworked’ supervisor being on duty.
He said: “There is a heavy burden on those individuals whose commercial success depends on workers like Mark Bullock being expected to work in confined spaces.
“Assessing risks and adequate safety measures is paramount.
“This was a serious case. The centre of this is a tragic and unnecessary loss of life.”
The court heard the company had not properly considered the risks of entering the cooker and did not competently manage the work as it was taking place.
Investigators found the boiling steam should never have got into the confined space where Mark was working.
After the case Mark’s partner Christine Knowles, 67, a retired accountant, said: “The company should have made sure Mark was safe.
“Every company should do the same for their workers.
“To die that young is a tragedy. He was so fit and healthy.
“Mark had a great passion for life. He had an extremely generous nature and a wicked sense of humour.
“Mark was a great man. He touched many people’s hearts and broke mine when he died.
“Mark’s friends put some money together and have had a tribute put up at the site – a tree and a stone with the inscription ‘How difficult can it be?'”
The couple, who have three grown up children and nine grandchildren, had been looking forward to retirement after recently moving to a canal-side property in Milton, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs.
Mark Bullock was step-father to Stephen Knowles, 44, Tracy Knowles, 40, and Jonty (corr) Knowles, 30.
Christine had her three children from a previous relationship. Mark had no children of his own.
Mark’s partner of 27 years added: “In 2009 we moved to a beautiful house on the canal. He built a balcony and bought a boat and had hoped to retire early.
“We had started to really look forward to retirement and lazy sunny days on or near the water.”
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said the firm should have learnt lessons after one of their workers Glynn Thompson died in a factory accident 11 years ago.
HSE inspector Wayne Owen said: “The cookers at the company form the core part of the business.
“Steam and hot vapours getting into the cookers from other connected pieces of equipment is foreseeable, and precautions should have been taken to ensure all avenues which had the potential to allow steam to be fed back into the cooker had been suitably isolated.
“John Pointon and Sons failed to do this and it cost Mark Bullock his life.
“Working in confined spaces can be extremely dangerous, and John Pointon and Sons was fully aware of this having already had a fatality.
“Companies must identify what measures should be taken to ensure the safety of their workforce.
“I would urge any company that carries out work in confined spaces to double check their procedures.”
A spokesman for John Pointon and Sons said: “We deeply regret the tragic death of Mark Bullock, who was a much-loved and highly-regarded colleague.
“Since the accident, we have invested even more heavily in health and safety systems, working closely with expert external consultants and specialist training providers to achieve the highest possible standards across the site.”