The operator of the world's largest nuclear site has been fined £320,000 after an electrician’s eyelashes were burned off and his shirt caught fire while working on high voltage equipment.
Sellafield was prosecuted following what an inspector described as an 'entirely avoidable' incident in which a worker suffered 15-20% burns at the site near Seascale in West Cumbria.
On 24 April 2020 Reece Hudson was assisting in a job to permanently disconnect a three phase 11kV cable known as HTF 148 at a substation.
Two authorised persons cut the cable and instructed Reece to cap and disconnect it on his own. He removed the cover from the front of the cable box, which had a green label on it indicating that it was safe to work on.
However, he had a limited experience of high voltage cable boxes. He expected to see three 'elbow joint' terminations, but when he looked into the box he saw three cable cores with 'straight boot' style covers. This led him to believe that the cable went up into the section above.
He went to the rear of the unit to try to find the terminations. There were no warning labels on the rear to indicate the presence of live conductors behind the covers and he therefore removed one of them.
He tried to remove the back panel but came into contact with the live current and was thrown back against the substation wall. The photograph above shows the burn marks.
His eyelashes were burned off and his shirt caught fire. He managed to beat out the flames and called the control room for help. He was taken to West Cumberland Hospital and then onto the burns unit at Newcastle upon Tyne.
'In a nutshell, the defendant required some of its employees to undertake work on high voltage equipment without having received adequate training to do so'
Reece's burns covered his face, chest, arms and hip and he underwent two skin grafts. He spent almost three weeks in hospital and has been left with permanent scarring on his arms and wrist. He also suffers with psychological and emotional problems, the ONR's solicitor advocate, Craig Morris, told Carlisle Magistrates' Court last week.
Sellafield Ltd was charged under section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act for failing to ensure the health and safety of its employees, in relation to the risks arising while undertaking high voltage electrical work.
The risks involved in undertaking electrical work include the risk of death and it is vital that safe systems of work are in place to undertake that work and that it is undertaken by appropriately qualified and trained individuals, Craig said.
'As a shift worker, Reece spent the majority of his time on site working with low voltage equipment and responding to breakdowns,' he told the court.
'His limited work on high voltage equipment was made up primarily of non intrusive routine visual maintenance checks on ring main units and transformers, rather than the type of intrusive work that he was being asked to undertake on the 24 April.
'In a nutshell, the defendant required some of its employees to undertake work on high voltage equipment without having received adequate training to do so and providing them with little in the way of written material or adequate supervision and failing to mark live parts on older equipment with the appropriate warning signs.'
When referring to the Sentencing Guideline, District Judge John Temperley deemed the incident the upper end of Medium Culpability with a level of harm as the top tier, risk of death. As Sellafield is a very large organisation, a fine of £480,000 was imposed, reduced by a third for an early guilty plea.
The Sellafield site is one of Europe’s largest industrial complexes, managing more radioactive waste in one place than any other similar facility in the world and employing thousands of people.
In an IOSH magazine article, Sellafield's EHS&Q director discussed the significant challenges the site faces daily.
Last year, Sellafield Ltd was prosecuted over employee contamination after a worker was left susceptible to internal radiation exposure.