£376,000 fine for Wallop Defence after 2006 fatal nitro blast

WALLOP Defence Systems Ltd (WDS) has been ordered to pay £376,000 in fines and costs for safety failings that caused a fatal explosion at its Hampshire factory.

Anthony Sheridan, aged 37, from Over Wallop, was killed from injuries sustained in the blast at WDS, in Middle Wallop near Andover, in June 2006. Mr Sheridan was emptying one of six industrial ovens used in the manufacture of military flares. The ovens contained high levels of nitroglycerin (NG) that exploded, causing an explosion that destroyed the factory building. Several other workers were injured in the incident, with blast debris landing up to 600ft away. Winchester Crown Court heard today (9 November) that WDS had realised in 2004 that their process for curing pellets as part of the production of military flares produced the explosive chemical as a by-product. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that none of the company’s senior management team or technical advisers were competent to deal with the NG issue, but did not seek external professional assistance.

Reviewing the company’s procedures since NG was discovered in 2004, HSE found WDS was not complying with the basics in explosive safety and failed to adhere to licensing requirements for the storage and processing of explosive substances. Their failure to properly assess and manage the risks put workers and the public in danger. A second explosion occurred in December 2008 when the company attempted to dismantle the remaining NG contaminated oven on the company’s second site. No one was injured in the explosion. The court heard that the company failed to engage with the HSE and seek competent expert advice on dismantling it and that the incident was entirely foreseeable and avoidable. Wallop Defence Systems Ltd, of Craydown Lane, Middle Wallop was fined a total of £266,000 and ordered to pay £110,000 in costs for three breaches of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, two relating to the fatal explosion and the other to the second blast. The company pleaded guilty to all three breaches in an earlier hearing at Andover Magistrates Court. In a victim statement Anthony’s sister, Tracy Sheridan, said: “The loss of Anthony has been massively devastating on the whole family and particularly on me. We were very close. “Anthony was involved with the whole family and particularly my children. He played a big role in my children’s lives and they still talk about him. He was a riendly person and liked by all, including all of his work mates at Wallop. “The family have gradually come to terms with Anthony’s loss, although this was made even more difficult with the devastating injuries he suffered. The family wasn’t able to lay an open coffin, an Irish tradition and say goodbye in a traditional way.”

Speaking after sentencing, Qamar Khan, Principal Inspector for HSE’s explosives team, added: “Anthony Sheridan suffered horrifying injuries in the explosion that caused his death. “Both this explosion and the subsequent blast in December 2008 were foreseeable and preventable had the company sought and taken appropriate advice and implemented the correct measures. If these steps had been taken Anthony Sheridan would still be alive. “It is especially concerning that despite issues with the factory being reported to senior WDS management, nothing materially changed to safeguard employees and the public. The company deluded itself that everything was OK and in hand. “Companies working with dangerous substances must take extreme care at all times and in all aspects of their operations. That clearly didn’t happen here, and the consequences were tragic.”

The company issued the following statement after the hearing.

Wallop Defence Systems Limited offers its sincere condolences to the family and friends of Anthony Sheridan who was killed in this tragic incident.

The Company pleaded guilty at the first reasonable opportunity to three offences contrary to sections 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and has been fined £266,000 plus £110,000 costs. The guilty pleas were in respect of a failure to manage the manufacture of an important military defence flare effectively, which may have reduced the risk of such an incident occurring.

Wallop takes health and safety extremely seriously.  The Company has, in the 6 years since this incident took place, made every effort to prevent such a tragedy from happening again and a full review of the manufacturing process has been undertaken. An entirely new management team is now in place at Wallop, and the Company has co-operated fully with the Health and Safety Executive at all stages of its investigations.

The Company accepts the decision of the Court today and again offers its condolences to Mr Sheridan’s family and all those affected by this terrible event.

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