Fatal explosion at Rotherham waste plant ‘caused by neglect’

Michael Whinfrey.
Michael Whinfrey.

Management at a Rotherham recycling plant where a man was killed by an explosion were said to put ‘production before safety’, a court heard.

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.

Explosion still CCTV Sterecyle Sheffield Road Templeborough Rotherham 11/1/11

Explosion still CCTV Sterecyle Sheffield Road Templeborough Rotherham 11/1/11

Adrian Darbishire, prosecuting, told jurors: “This explosion was not the result of hidden defect, sabotage or technology – it was the result of serious neglect.”

The prosecution said it was ‘always planned’ that the plant, which began operating in 2008, would ‘become big business’ through further investment for expansion. Mr Darbishire said investors were told the Rotherham site was ‘working proof’ such a business could make money.

Mr Darbishire told the jury it was that additional pressure which contributed to the plant’s need to keep running 24 hours a day 365 days a year.

He said: “Fundamental flaws were ignored and not properly investigated. It was all about quickness.”

The court heard Mr Whinfrey was an operator on the autoclaves – large vessels that used steam and pressure to break down household waste.

It is alleged the door on one of the autoclaves failed, causing an explosive release of pressure to blow out a sudden rush of steam and debris, which killed Mr Whinfrey and seriously injured a colleague.

Mr Darbishire told the court the door had been previously damaged following a decision by management to open the vessel before it had completely de-pressured, causing it to become misaligned. He said the firm came up with a way to get the door to shut again but the repair was not safe and there was no other way to describe it than a ‘bodge job’.

He also told the court safety devices on the autoclave had been removed before the explosion, and that concerned staff had reported the door starting to open during operation, but little was done to remove the risk.

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, which was not represented in court, denies corporate manslaughter.

The trial continues.