South West Wales

Tata Steel fined £500,000 over Kevin Downey's death

Tata Steel has been fined £500,000 after a Port Talbot worker was fatally injured after a fall into molten waste.

Kevin Downey, 49, fell five years after being hailed a hero for his actions after a fatal explosion at the south Wales plant in 2001.

Tata admitted health and safety charges at Swansea Crown Court.

The court heard there were concerns about leaving troughs uncovered and excess steam in the period before Mr Downey's death in 2006.

The court was told that before the 2006 incident, an internal presentation by Corus - the owners at the time - had referred to open troughs as "potential killers".

It also heard that the present owners of the site, Tata Steel, had taken steps to prevent a repeat of the accident.

Mr Justice Spencer fined the company £400,000 in relation to Section 2 offence and £100,000 in relation to the Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

It was also ordered to pay the prosecution's costs of £57,487.09.

The death of Mr Downey had had a "devastating impact" on his family, his wife said after the case.

"We hope that today's hearing will act as a reminder to all employers that failure to observe basic health and safety issues can have catastrophic consequences," she said.

"Kevin was a safe and conscientious worker and loved by his family, friends and colleagues. We hope other families will not have to go through the pain we have since his death."

Hot steam

At an inquest into Mr Downey's death in September 2011, a jury recorded a verdict of accidental death.

At that hearing, the jury heard that he fell from a veranda in a blast furnace in the early hours of 25 April, 2006.

The inquest jury was told that following his fall Mr Downey told colleagues he had been trying to move away from hot steam. He died later at Swansea's Morriston Hospital.

Liquid metal slag often reached temperatures of 1,400 degrees centigrade, the inquiry was told.

Mr Downey, who had worked at the plant since he left school, was said to have been conscious when work mates pulled him from the piece of equipment known as a slag runner.

He had been praised by colleagues for his actions after an explosion at the plant in 2001, which killed three workers.

Mr Downey was said to have been pivotal in shutting the furnace down after the explosion and making the area safe.

'Profound impact'

Jon Ferriman, Tata Steel's director of Port Talbot Steelworks, said: "Tata Steel deeply regrets Kevin's death and the terrible loss suffered by his widow Tanya, his two children and other family members and friends.

"His death also had a profound impact within the steelworks itself. Kevin was well known and respected throughout the business.

"The health and safety of our employees and contractors is our most important priority. Tata Steel constantly places a great deal of emphasis on creating a strong and ever improving safety culture in the organisation and into improving our processes and procedures.

"We want to ensure everyone working on our sites is safe."

Colin Mew, HSE principal inspector, said: "The lack of visibility caused by steam and the open runners were a fatal combination which should have been foreseen by the company.

"This horrific incident could have been avoided if the company had a system in place to ensure that either no covers were left off the runners or - if they needed to be left off - a temporary barrier was erected around them."

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