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St. Helens Managing Director sentenced over gas explosion

15-02-2012

The Managing Director of a St Helens gas supply firm has appeared in court after he and an employee suffered multiple burns in an explosion.

John Webster was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after he and another worker received burns to their faces, hands and legs at North West Gases Ltd. A third employee sustained minor injuries in the explosion, which lifted the roof off the building on Alma Street in St Helens.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that Mr Webster, 55, and another worker, who has asked not to be named, had been attempting to remove the valve on an LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) cylinder on 10 April 2008.

The HSE investigation found Mr Webster, whose company provides LPG for a range of uses including powering forklift trucks, had failed to ensure the cylinder was empty and there was no ignition source present before starting work.

Subsequently, gas escaped from the cylinder and ignited. The resulting fire and explosion set Mr Webster's clothing on fire and his employee was thrown across the building.

Both men were treated in a specialist burns unit and the employee suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. A third man who was working outside the workshop also suffered minor injuries.

John Webster was found guilty of a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 by failing to take reasonable care of himself and his employees, following a trial at Liverpool Crown Court. Mr Webster, of Archer Grove in St Helens, was fined £22,500 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £2,500 on 13 February 2012.

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A St Helens business man has hit out at the HSE following his conviction and fine for a gas explosion at his gas supply company.
John Webster was prosecuted by HSE after he and another employee received burns to their faces, hands and legs following an explosion and fire at the premises of North West Gases.
Speaking yesterday, John Webster said he was surprised at the statement issued by the HSE which suggested that his failure to ‘carry out even the most basic of safety checks led to what was an entirely preventable incident.”, he added that he had successfully de valved two cylinders prior to the one which released gas.
He added that a company didn’t gain a previously unblemished safety record stretching over 30 years at two separate North West sites by not following strict guidelines drawn up for the handling of LPG Cylinders. “I was rightly proud of our safety record”.
Mr. Webster further questioned the HSE assumption that he had not checked for any potential sources of ignition in the building where the incident took place as, following their investigation using a range of experts in the field, they had failed to come up with a source or the cause of ignition.
Commenting after the case, John Webster, the managing director of the firm, said
he was disappointed with both the verdict and the amount of the fine which failed to take in to account the companies unblemished safety record. He described
How HSE officials had taken almost 3 years to launch a prosecution despite the firms complete co-operation during that period. “They only gave me 11 days to prepare for court”. He added that the prosecution and trial had put in jeopardy, the jobs of 15 full time employee’s. “It was only after we contacted our MP, Mr. Shaun Woodward to ask him to intervene did the HSE finally make a move, otherwise I believe we would still be waiting till this day for a decision over our future “added Mr. Webster.

Mr. Webster further challenged the HSE’s assumption that ‘luck “played any part in preventing a fatality during the accident. ‘ Both myself and the other employee where both kitted out in the correct safety equipment “said Mr... Webster. He added “how that equates to recklessness is beyond my comprehension “

They had insufficient evidence to prosecute the company, and decided to prosecute me personally. “I believe that I have been boss bashed.

Mr. Webster stated that he and his brother had placed their life savings into the company to do the work that the insurers should have done. He also stated that the legal defense cover that he was entitled to under the terms of the policy was pulled after the first appearance at magistrates court, the insurers stating “a successful defense would seriously prejudice their position” “ My defense was funded by family loans and legal aid, I should never have been placed in that position” He added “ directors of small companies should check their insurance policies carefully and ensure that legal cover is not placed with the same insurer.

Mr. Webster stated an appeal is currently under consideration.



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