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Worker loses legs in compressed air explosion

25 February 2014

The HSE inspector investigating described the injuries as "akin to those sustained on a battlefield".

51-year-old Clive Dainty, from Kidderminster, was working at Filtration Service Engineering on 8 December 2011 when a 335-litre vessel exploded as it was being pressure tested.

The extent of the explosion tore the two parts of the vessel apart, with one part hitting Mr Dainty and forcing him into a cabinet against a wall.

He was hospitalised for several months and had to have both legs amputated. He also suffered head injuries and has severely restricted movement in his arms, which have been repaired with metal plates.

The force of the blast also threw a fire extinguisher through a nearby wooden staircase.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Filtration Service Engineering was testing the vessel as there were concerns about the quality of the welding. However, instead of simply filling it with water, the firm decided to use compressed air.

The factory’s compressed air supply was directly connected to one of the vessel’s openings. A valve, which could be manually opened and closed, and a pressure gauge were installed, and the vessel filled with compressed air. The pressure built up to such an extent that eventually the vessel exploded.

Filtration Service Engineering, of the Oldington Trading Estate, Kidderminster, was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay £15,325 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

HSE inspector Ed Fryer said: "The vessel exploded like a bomb during the course of a normal working day, and everyone in the factory was at risk from the operation because no measures were put in place to protect them.

"Pneumatic testing is a dangerous activity and significant planning is required to ensure the risks are managed. The management of health and safety in this factory was woefully inadequate and simple measures could have been implemented to prevent the incident from happening.

"An assessment of the risks involved in pneumatic pressure testing should have identified that air was not a suitable testing medium. The test could have been carried out by simply filling the vessel with water.

"It is a miracle that more people were not injured and that nobody lost their life.”

Information and advice about the safety requirements for pressure testing can be found on the HSE website at www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/gs4.htm