Total UK fined £1.4m after worker killed in an oil refinery fire

Total UK, the global energy company, has been ordered to pay over £1.4m after a fire at its oil refinery in North Lincolnshire resulted in the death of one of its workers.

An inspection conducted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) revealed that the fire responsible for the fatality could have been prevented, because it started due to an uncontrolled crude oil leak.

Mr Robert Greenacre, from Grimsby, was carrying out his duties as a fitter with a colleague, next to a crude oil distillation column at the Lindsey Oil Refinery.

Hull Crown Court heard that the 24-year-old had to open equipment located below the column in order to carry out the work he had been tasked with, and oil was released as a result.

It later ignited and the subsequent fire caused Mr Greenacre’s death, though his colleague was able to escape after sustaining minor burns.

Companies are required, by law, to eliminate any potential health and safety risks whenever possible.

The task at the centre of the case should either have been completed when the column was dormant, meaning that the oil would not have leaked, or there should have been an industry standard isolation function to control the flow of oil from the unit.

Total UK Limited pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4 of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 (COMAH) and the company was fined £1.4m and ordered to pay costs of £34,084.05.

Speaking after the hearing, John Moran – a HSE inspector involved with the case – said: “If Total had followed well established principles of risk assessment this major fire and the subsequent fatal injury to Robert Greenacre could have been easily prevented.

“Although the accident arose from a simple task, the magnitude of the risk was great.

“The risk should have been identified before the task started, and action taken to either eliminate or control it. This did not happen.

“Total UK Limited as operator in control of a major accident hazard establishment fell far short of the standard required of them.”

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Nigel is the Managing Partner and Head of Litigation and Dispute Resolution in the London office of Mackrell Turner Garrett.