Machine was ‘misused’ at Rotherham factory where worker died in explosion

A view of the explosion at Sterecycle in Rotherham in 2011.
A view of the explosion at Sterecycle in Rotherham in 2011.

A court has been told of a ‘sorry history’ of events that led up to an explosion at a Rotherham recycling plant which killed an employee.

Michael Whinfrey, aged 42, a dad-of-three from Wickersley, Rotherham, was fatally injured in a blast at Sterecycle on Sheffield Road, Rotherham, on January 11, 2011.

Michael Whinfrey

Michael Whinfrey

Adrian Darbishire, prosecuting, told jurors: “Maintenance failures, misuse of equipment, bypassing safety devices and inappropriate and unassessed repairs were contributing factors.”

The prosection said there had been numerous concerns raised by staff about problems with the plant’s autoclaves - large vessels that used steam and pressure to break down household waste - but that senior management had come up with ‘quick fix solutions’ and ‘did not think through the implications’.

He said management interfered with safety devices, changed things without considering the effects, and ran machinery while it was malfunctioning - all of which went against the manufacturers’ instructions.

The court was told that when a locking ring - that held the door of the autoclave closed - began to stick ‘a habit arose of using a lump hammer to get it to open’.

It was said maintenance staff reported not being able to complete their planned daily tasks as they were ‘running around like headless chickens’ fixing other problems. A missing screw from the fish plate, which held together the locking ring to prevent the door opening, was not replaced.

Mr Darbishire added: “It’s obvious the door was blown open by a failure.”

Maintenance manger Kevin Goss, aged 58, of Dixon Road, Hillsborough, Sheffield; operations manager Steven Weaver, 39, of Orchard Croft, Wales, Rotherham; and operations director Paul Greenwell, 52, of Bury St Edmonds in Suffolk, all deny health and safety breaches. Goss also denies a charge of perverting the course of justice.

Sterecycle denies corporate manslaughter.

The trial continues.

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