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Steel worker fatality led to Tata prosecution

August 7, 2012

The international steel company, TATA, faced prosecution for breach of health and safety guidelines when a worker died after falling into a slag waste channel, which was estimated to be at a temperature of 1500°C. The incident occurred when covers had been taken off for maintenance checks but never replaced.

Kevin Downey, the steel worker involved, was working on a night shift at one of the blast furnaces at the Port Talbot steelworks when the accident took place.

It was reported that Mr Downey has gone over to the cast house which was situated on the site to check the slag pool that was about to be shut the next day for maintenance.

When he was on the balcony overlooking the area, steam rising from a granulator overwhelmed him, so he quickly departed. In the process of trying to retrace his return through the steam, visibility was reduced to only around a metre, he subsequently fell right through an uncovered part of the channel where slag was streaming through at around 1,500°C.

He immediately tried to clamber out and was assisted by other workers when they heard him crying out for help. At that point, he was still fully conscious, but he eventually died on the same day.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) followed up the incident and discovered that the steelworks reporting system revealed a large number of similar situations where steam had proved potentially dangerous in situations that could have injured workers and damaged equipment.

The investigation also discovered that the furnace was commonly operated with a part of a channel left uncovered and there was nothing stopping workers from falling into the channel.

Tata put in a guilty plea for breaches in health and safety, admitting that leaving covers off open parts of the channel in an area where the visibility was reduced by thick steam was dangerous and something should have been done about it much earlier.

The sad accident that took place would have been prevented if the company had ensured that the covers were never removed at all or a temporary was put in place protecting entry into the open sections.