Sheffield engineering subsidary of Pressure Technologies fined £700,000 over death of employee

Chesterfield Special Cylinders in Sheffield was fined over the fatality.
Chesterfield Special Cylinders in Sheffield was fined over the fatality.
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A subsidiary of engineering firm Pressure Technologies has been ordered to pay out more than £869,000 after being found guilty over the fatal accident of a maintenance engineer in 2015.

Chesterfield Special Cylinders (CSC), which is a subsidiary of Sheffield-based Pressure Technologies, was found guilty under Section 2 of the Health and Safety Work Act 1974.

CSC was fined £700,000 for failings that led to the death of John Townsend, aged 64, of Ashleigh Avenue, Gleadless on June 10, 2015.

The business was also ordered to £169,498.82 in prosecution costs.

Judge Roger Thomas QC said the victim impact statements from the deceased’s wife Lynn were “heart rending”.

He said: “She had just retired and he was about to retire. Both on a practical and emotional level, her life has been cruelly undermined and the retirement years they intended to spend together have been denied her.”

Mr Townsend was described as a family man with two children. He was due to retire the week after the accident happened.

Mr Townsend had been carrying out a leak test on a number of cylinders when an explosion took place at the factory in Sheffield. He was struck by a metal shard and died at the scene shortly afterwards.

The explosion occurred after Mr Townsend added vaporal - an oil based inhibitor - at the request of a customer to the cylinders.

Judge Thomas said the company “could have and should have acted with a great deal more care than they did”.

He added: “What they did fell far short of the standards expected of them and they failed to take the measures to ensure that the use of vaporol was safe.”

Mr Townsend was told to put the oil based inhibitor in at the start of the test, leading to the explosion.

In July 2014, CSC’s own assessment found that the sequence of how cylinders are tested needed to be passed down to employees but that never happened.

In a statement, the victim’s daughter Louise Townsend said: “There’s no way to describe the anguish our family faced after we lost dad. It’s been a battle to come to terms with him being taken from us so abruptly, and also to understand how he was left exposed to the risks he was that led to his death.

“No financial penalty – however great – can fill the hole left in our hearts, but knowing that Pressure Technologies has been held to account does offer the family some sense of closure.

“We are very grateful to my dad’s union, Unite, and their lawyers Thompsons Solicitors, who have worked hard to make sure Pressure Technologies were held to account, and I’d urge anyone who isn’t already a member to join a union. They were there when we needed them and if it wasn’t for pressure from Unite, we’d still be waiting for answers.”

Chris Walters, chief executive of Pressure Technologies, said: “Chesterfield Special Cylinders and Pressure Technologies Group respect the decision of the jury and the sentencing that has been determined today.

“We deeply regret the events that resulted in the death of our colleague and long standing employee John Townsend, which has left a terrible gap in the lives of his family, friends and colleagues, with whom our deepest sympathies remain.

“The Pressure Technologies Group operates in safety critical industries. We are committed to achieving the highest safety standards and the Judge has today remarked upon the company’s decent safety record and attitude.

“This tragic incident occurred in June 2015 and in the period since then we have made significant changes and improvements to the way we operate at the Chesterfield Special Cylinders site and across all group sites as we continually strive to improve the safety of our operations and our employees.”

The trial was brought forward by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) against the Sheffield-based listed firm, with the jury delivering a guilty verdict in November. Sentencing took place at Sheffield Crown Court today.

The fine and costs will be paid over a period of three years. The first instalment of £214,879.92 will be paid in April 2020. This will be followed with six instalments of £109,103.15 to be paid every six months from July 2020, with the final payment due in January 2023.

CSC doesn’t have any previous convictions.