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Thursday, 24 July 2014

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Sellafield death was accident waiting to happen

THE employer of a man from west Cumbria who died after plunging 350ft down a radioactive Sellafield chimney has been fined £100,000 for breaching health and safety practices which led to his death.

At Carlisle Crown Court yesterday Judge Paul Batty QC slammed the working practices of contractors P C Richardson & Co (Middlesborough) Ltd who Mr Cannon worked for, and Sellafield Ltd, saying his death was “an accident waiting to happen”.

Sellafield Ltd – where the accident happened – was fined £150,000.

Judge Batty QC criticised the failings of both companies: “If proper working practices had been followed then Mr Cannon would not have met an untimely and tragic death,” he said.

Both companies admitted failing to ensure the health and safety of their employees after Neil Cannon’s accident on January 9, 2003.

Mr Cannon, 36, of The Forge, Cleator, was working on a ledge in the diffuser section of the Windscale Pile B6 chimney.

He was trying to manoeuvre a beam off the ledge to fall to the bottom of the chimney. The sharp bracket on the beam severed his safety harness, known as a lanyard, and the weight of the beam took him over the edge. He was working for P C Richardson at the time.

The court heard that there had been a similar “near miss” at the Sellafield Ltd site in 2002.

Prosecutor Neil Lawrence said: “Workers could only spend a short amount of time decommissioning the chimney because it had been contaminated.

“It was about 30 minutes a day and they had to wear PVC suits and respirators.”

The health and safety systems and the lack of monitoring were criticised by the prosecution.

“The accident would never have happened if staff working practices had been adopted,” added Mr Lawrence.

Michael Hayton, mitigating for P C Richardson & Co, said: “The work that was being done took place in a harsh and challenging environment – about as harsh an environment as you could possibly imagine.

“The company offers their profound apologies because their failings were responsible, in part, for that tragic accident.”

He said the case had been “hanging over” the company since 2003.

Since the accident the companies have reviewed their working practices, including working at height.

After the court case, Barry Snelson, MD of Sellafield Ltd, said: “We owe it to Neil to make his death the last that ever happens on the Sellafield site. I express on behalf of Sellafield our deepest and most sincere apologies. It took the loss of an irreplaceable and precious life to set us on a journey of continuous safety improvement which will never end.”

P C Richardson & Co was ordered to pay £25,000 towards prosecution costs and Sellafield Ltd £50,500.

A statement from P C Richardson & Co said: “We continue to take the issue of health and safety very seriously indeed. We have co-operated with the authorities and with BNFL to ensure that any lessons which can be learned from Neil’s tragic death are not overlooked. We will continue to review and revise those procedures which are in place to ensure everything which can be done is done to prevent accidents.

“Our ongoing aim is to continue to bring about changes in safety culture to achieve a zero accident rate.

P C Richardson & Co was fined £100,000 and Sellafield Ltd was fined £150,000.

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