AWE Fined 200K After Fire At Berkshire Base

28 May 2013, 17:22 | Updated: 28 May 2013, 17:28

The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), which makes and maintains warheads for the UK's Trident nuclear deterrent, has been ordered to pay more than £280,000 for putting employees at risk, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said.

Failings in safety procedures led to one member of staff being injured in a fire at the AWE's complex in Aldermaston on August 3 2010. 

There were no radiological implications as the blaze broke out in a part of the plant which deals with conventional explosives but residents nearby were evacuated. 

The company was today fined £200,000 and ordered to pay £80,258 in costs at Reading Crown Court after it admitted a single count of breaching safety law on May 16.

Former plant worker Ashley Emery, 29, from Basingstoke, who suffered burns to his left arm and face in the incident, will receive £2,500 in compensation.

He was producing a highly flammable lacquer while surrounded by other explosive materials and wearing "inadequate'' personal protection gear when he was engulfed by the fireball, thought to have been caused by electrostatic discharge. 

After sentencing, HSE inspector Dave Norman said: "The fire could have caused multiple casualties and it was entirely preventable had better control systems been in place. 

"The failure to instigate such controls was dependent on AWE identifying potential hazards and risks, all of which were well documented, but that simply did not happen. 

"``supervision, monitoring and auditing over time''. ``Companies working with hazardous substances must take extreme care at all times and in all aspects of their operations,'' he added. 

AWE is owned by a consortium of the Jacobs Engineering Group, Lockheed Martin UK and Serco, but the Government has a "golden share'' and is the proprietor of the site where the fire broke out. 

It has more than 4,000 employees currently working at the Aldermaston plant, with turnover of £868.3 million in 2012 and profits after tax of £11.3 million, the court heard.

Production at one of the site's buildings was suspended in January this year over separate safety concerns following a routine inspection.