Fatal blast pie company’s fine of £250,000 likely to go unpaid

Aftermath of the explosion at the Andrew Jones Pies factory
Aftermath of the explosion at the Andrew Jones Pies factory
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A FORMER pie-making firm has been fined £250,000 for safety breaches following a gas oven explosion which ripped through its factory, killing a father-of-two and badly injuring another worker.

Andrew Jones Pies, of Huddersfield, which is now in administration, was also told to pay £124,000 in costs – but it is unlikely that any of the money will be paid, a court heard.

Imposing the fines and costs, a judge said the company had “failed dismally” and that, though not in a position to pay, his judgment reflected the levels of the company’s failings.

The explosion in April 2009 at the factory in Old Leeds Road, Huddersfield, happened after baker David Cole made several attempts to light the 30-year-old oven, unaware that gas was building up.

The blast blew the large oven door on to Mr Cole, 37, of Salterhebble, Halifax, who died at the scene.

Colleague Marcus Cartwright, of Crosland Moor, Huddersfield, was badly hurt.

Last month a jury found the company guilty of safety breaches.

The court heard that Mr Cole, of Halifax, had started work early so he could light two large ovens before other workers arrived.

One had failed to light and exploded around 5am. Severe damage was caused to the building.

The Health and Safety Executive found the company’s procedures for operating the ovens were inadequate and informal.

Bakery workers had not been given sufficient instruction or training in their use.

The company failed to appreciate that direct-fired ovens could potentially fill with a flammable mix of gas and air.

The investigation discovered that an explosion relief panel on the back of the oven, which could have vented excess pressure, had been fixed rigidly in place, although this modification may have pre-dated the firm’s ownership of the ovens.

Judge Guy Kearl, QC, told York Crown Court yesterday the company “failed to give basic training to its employees and there was no risk assessment given to stop an employee trying to light the oven more than once”.

“Employees were not made aware of the written instructions about how to operate the ovens,” he added. “The company failed dismally and these failures substantially led to the death of Mr Cole.

“The explosion blew out the windows of the building and Mr Cole was killed in it.

“Mr Cole was not to blame and this was an ongoing situation rather than an isolated incident.”

The company was charged in August 2012 after going into administration 15 months earlier.

The assets of the company have since been sold to a new company called AJ Pies and Pastries Ltd, which has retained the same staff.

After the hearing Health and Safety Executive inspector John Micklethwaite said: “The tragic death of Mr Cole in this incident was devastating for his wife and family.

“I hope that the conclusion of the case will help to provide a degree of closure for David’s bereaved family, friends and former colleagues. The judge commented clearly that David was not at fault.

“The explosion could have been avoided if the correct lighting-up procedures had been followed. No more than two attempts to light the oven should have been made.

“If the oven still failed to light, engineers should have been called in.

“Large gas oven explosions are known, but rare. HSE issued a safety alert after this incident to similar companies asking them to check the explosion reliefs on all direct fired bakery ovens.”