British Sugar punished for explosion

AN electrician who was seriously injured in a factory explosion said last night that he felt lucky to be alive.Eddie Osbourne, 55, was working as a contractor at the British Sugar factory at Cantley, near Yarmouth, when he was struck by a door blown off its hinges in the blast almost two years ago, and is unlikely ever to work again.

AN electrician who was seriously injured in a factory explosion said last night that he felt lucky to be alive.

Eddie Osbourne, 55, was working as a contractor at the British Sugar factory at Cantley, near Yarmouth, when he was struck by a door blown off its hinges in the blast almost two years ago, and is unlikely ever to work again.

He was speaking after British Sugar was fined £250,000 and ordered to pay £95,000 costs at Norwich Crown Court yesterday after admitting breaches in health and safety which led to an explosion.

Mr Osbourne, of Lowestoft, suffered a fractured skull, which caused some brain damage and the loss of sight in his left eye.


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He spent weeks in hospital with his family worrying whether he would pull through.

But with the skill of hospital staff and support of his wife Maria, who has had to give up work to look after him, he has made a recovery.

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However, he has been left with lasting injuries and has not been able to work since.

Speaking publicly for the first time Mr Osbourne said: "I realise I'm lucky to be alive."

He said he was waiting at the door to enter the building but that if he had been inside at the time of the blast he might not have survived.

He added: "The next thing I knew I woke up in hospital."

The fine for British Sugar came just three months after the company was fined £400,000 with £31,457 costs for health and safety breaches at its Bury St Edmunds factory and was its fifth breach in health in safety in five years.

Judge Paul Downes said: "This is a large company and it really ought to feel a significant sense of embarrassment to be in breach of regulations five times in five years."

The court heard that there would also be an insurance settlement for the injuries Mr Osbourne received, which has yet to be settled.

Mark Harris, prosecuting on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive, said operations at the factory had stopped for maintenance to be done before the start of the sugar beet season in September and part of the programme was to carry out work to minimise the risk of explosions.

On July 21 2003, Stuart Wardale and James Ellington went to the elevator tower at the Cantley factory to weld frames onto the metal casing of the silo feed elevator.

Mr Harris said: "Mr Wardale began welding, when he had finished one piece he realised that the frame was not flush with the casing and was sticking out by about one millimetre.

"At about 8.30am he hit the frame with a large hammer to straighten it.

"The two men heard a bang and a whoosh then the area around them filled with smoke."

Mr Harris added: "They were unable to escape downwards due to the smoke and suspected fire they could see below them, so they proceeded up the tower via a number of ladders and escaped onto the top of the silos at a door at the top which had been blown out."

He said the explosion had occurred in the elevator casing and had started a fire on the second and third floor at the factory. He added that a door in the blast struck Mr Osbourne.

A report by health and safety experts concluded that the welding could have ignited an explosive cloud of sugar dust inside the elevator, which had probably been disturbed by the maintenance work.

Kevin deHaan QC, mitigating, said that it was not a case that safety procedures were not in place but that they had not been followed.

He added: "If the hammer blow had not been struck the likelihood is that we would not have to be here today. It is an unfortunate and tragic set of circumstances."

He said that since the accident new measures had been put in place, which would ensure nothing like this would happen again.

Afterwards Mr Osbourne said he was satisfied with the outcome. He added: "As long as lessons have been learnt and it won't ever happen again."

But his wife added: "No amount of money will bring my husband back to the way he was."

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