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Cement company fine a reminder of frequently misunderstood hazard

23 January 2013

Following the prosecution of an international cement company after a worker was set alight in an explosion companies are being reminded of the seriousness of Electric Arc Flash Risk...

On the 10th October 2008, electrical engineer, Paul Ridings, 39, of South Benfleet, Essex had been contracted to work for Lafarge Cement UK Plc, when he was engulfed by a fireball at the firm's site at Thurrock Marine Terminal in Essex.

Mr Ridings was investigating a fault with an energy meter when he inadvertently disturbed a loose connection and exposed a strand of wire leading to an electrical explosion. His clothes caught fire and he sustained burns to his face, neck, chest, arms and hands. He received emergency treatment and spent 19 days in the Specialist Burns Unit at Broomfield Hospital. Since the incident he has undergone numerous skin grafts and operations to remove scar tissue.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that Lafarge Cement UK Plc failed to ensure electrical systems were maintained in such a way as to protect workers. The company admitted breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, was fined £130,000 and ordered to pay costs of £29,742.

Electrical flashover or arc flash is one of the most deadly and least understood hazards of electricity and is prevalent in most industries. Each year around 1,000 electrical accidents at work are reported and as many as 251 people die from their injuries. It is widely recognised the higher the voltage of an electrical power system, the greater the risk for people working on or near energised conductors and equipment. However, the thermal energy from arc flash can actually be worse and more common at lower voltages and can cause devastating, severe burn injury and even death.