The firm which provides nuclear weapons for Trident has been ordered to pay £280,000 in fines and costs after a worker was injured during a fire.
The Atomic Weapons Establishment PLC (AWE PLC) pleaded guilty to a Health and Safety breach after a fire broke out in an explosives processing building.
Ashley Emery, 29, from Basingstoke, burnt his left arm and face in the incident at the company’s base in Aldermaston, Berkshire, in August 2010.
Reading Crown Court heard Mr Emery was breaking dry nitrocellulose (NC) into a plastic bucket which contained methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) – both volatile agents – as part of the process of producing a lacquer.
Mr Emery moved away from the mixture, removed his respirator, and returned to have a better look at things, at which point the contents of the bucket ignited and produced a fireball. He managed to flee before the fire took hold, spread and seriously damaged the building.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigated the fire and established that had AWE Plc recognised all the hazards of working with dry NC, and implemented appropriate safeguards, then the incident could have been avoided.
HSE inspectors also identified issues with the storage of unnecessary hazardous materials in the manufacturing area, and the fact a number of explosives processes were taking place at the same time.
AWE Plc, of Aldermaston, near Reading, was fined £200,000, ordered to pay £80,258 in costs, plus £2,500 in compensation to Mr Emery after pleading guilty to a single breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
After sentencing HSE inspector Dave Norman said: “The fire could have caused multiple casualties and it was entirely preventable had better control systems been in place.
“This collection of shortcomings demonstrates that there were failures of supervision, monitoring and auditing over time, including in relation to the conducting, validating and approval of risk assessments.
“Companies working with hazardous substances must take extreme care at all times and in all aspects of their operations.”
AWE’s Dr Graeme Nicholson, Director Science, Technology and Production said in a statement: “AWE always takes its health and safety responsibilities extremely seriously. We accept that on 3 August 2010, we did not meet our usually high standards. We regret the occurrence of the fire. We are sorry that a member of our staff was injured and for the disruption caused to local residents.
“Lessons have been learnt and we remain committed to achieving the highest standards in safety performance. We will continue to work openly and collaboratively with all our regulators.”