Valero Energy UK Limited has been fined £400,000 following a serious accident at its Pembroke Refinery.

On 5 March 2012, the Berth 6 tower walkway which provided gangway access to a stationary tanker vessel had dropped 3.5 metres, causing operator David Thomas to be trapped by a slack wire rope. He suffered fractures and lacerations to both legs and a dislocated knee as a result. 

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found multiple safety failings leading up to the incident which led it to launch the prosecution. These included failing to:

  • carry out a sufficient risk assessment of the use and operation of the access tower, with the result that the dangers of jamming, slack cable, and personnel accessing the walkway without engaging the scotching pin were neither identified nor addressed and the hierarchy of risk control was not applied;
  • provide adequate information, instruction and training to employees as to the safe use and operation of the access tower;
  • carry out adequate investigations into the previous and related incidents of September 2011, February 2011 and, in particular, August 2010;
  • review the check-list risk assessment in light of those incidents;
  • act on the recommendations of their inspection contractor, particularly in respect of the jamming problem and the absence of any access gate interlock, and ignored comments on one report that there was a “potential fatal accident waiting to happen”;
  • install any means of detection or prevention of slack cable in the mechanism; and
  • detect that the access tower was neither CE marked, nor subject to a Declaration of Conformity, as required.

Valero Energy UK Limited pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974; were fined £400,000 and ordered to pay costs of £60,614.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Andrew Knowles said: “It was particularly disappointing to find that although the company knew there had been problems with the operation of the access tower the company had failed to investigate these properly and had relied on changes to instructions, rather than taking action to modify the defective hardware, as required by the hierarchy of risk control. This was even more surprising in view of the fact that the company operates a major hazard refinery site where you would expect such problems to be taken more seriously and effectively investigated, with suitable corrective actions implemented.”