Tata Steel has been fined £30,000 after two workers narrowly avoided serious injury when three-metre long flames shot out of a leaking gas pipe.
The industrial giant was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive after the “poorly-managed” repair left one of a two-man team at its Scunthorpe steelworks with minor facial burns.
Scunthorpe Magistrates heard that coke oven gas was detected leaking from an overhead pipe feeding the plant’s central power station on February 25 2009.
The workers - one employee and a contractor - had intended to repair a small hole in the pipe with bung and resin, but when they came to do the job the following day found the hole had grown to the size of a fist.
They decided to use drill a metal plate to seal the hole, but when one of them attempted to put the first screw in place, the live gas in the pipe ignited.
The workers were just inches away in the basket of a mobile working platform, which they swiftly lowered to the ground.
Emergency services helped on-site fire fighters to tackle the blaze and prevent the situation escalating. It was only then that the coke oven gas supply was isolated.
Tata Steel UK Limited, registered to Millbank, London, pleaded guilty to two separate breaches of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002. It was fined £30,000 and ordered to pay costs of £1,696.
Afterwards HSE Inspector John Moran said: “This was a serious incident and a very near miss for those involved.
“Thankfully on this occasion a full recovery from the injuries sustained was possible, but it could easily have resulted in a double fatality, and it is a matter of chance that it didn’t.
“This poorly managed repair was gambling with people’s lives by putting them in positions of extreme risk.”
“Those responsible for managing safety should not ignore dangerous occurrences of this nature.”