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Friday, 12 January, 2001, 16:58 GMT
Molten metal death firms fined
zinc vat
Allen Wardle fell more than 20ft to his death in this vat
Two firms have been fined more than 200,000 after an engineer fell into a vat of molten metal and died.

Father-of-two Allen Wardle, 52, lived for six hours despite suffering 100% burns when he fell into a vat of molten zinc at a factory in Witham, Essex, in 1998.

He had been servicing a crane used to dip objects in the vat, which was heated to 450C, when he fell more than 20ft through a temporary plywood covering.

Judge Alasdair Darroch said Mr Wardle's death was "utterly avoidable" and "almost too horrible to describe".

A company their size will hardly notice this - they will go to bed tonight and sleep soundly

Michael Wardle
victim's brother
Both the factory owner, South East Galvanisers of Witham, and Mr Wardle's employers, Crane Engineers EA & H Sandford, of Gravesend, Kent, admitted failing to properly protect the engineer.

SEG was fined 150,000 plus 35,000 costs, while Sandford's was ordered to pay 25,000 with 10,000 costs.

Judge Darroch said SEG bore most of the responsibility for failing to ensure that safe working practices were in place.

"This accident is almost too horrible to describe," he said. "I believe that it was utterly avoidable."

Dangerous position

The Health & Safety Executive told Chelmsford Crown Court that Mr Wardle, an engineer for more than 30 years, was standing on a metal platform which covered the smouldering vat.

It is believed that he fell through a piece of plywood which was being used to temporarily cover an opening in the metal platform. He was not wearing a safety harness.

Michael Wardle
Allen Wardle's brother Michael believes SEG 'got off lightly'
Mr Wardle was quickly pulled from the vat by workmates but died later the same day in hospital, the court heard.

Prosecutor Caroline Knight said engineers should not have been allowed to work in such a dangerous position.

The victim's brother Michael, 51, said the factory owner should have been ordered to pay more.

"I think they have got off very, very lightly," he said.

"A company their size will hardly notice this. They will go to bed tonight and sleep soundly. But this has torn our family apart."

Lawyers representing the two companies said the accident had left staff shocked and devastated, and expressed their deepest sympathies to the victim's relatives.

Both companies had good safety records before Mr Wardle's death, the court was told.

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