AWE fire could have led to numerous deaths

THE 2010 fire at AWE Aldermaston could have resulted in “numerous fatalities”, according to a report by the Health and Safety Executive.

The report by the government watchdog was released last week following a Freedom of Information request by the Nuclear Information Service.

The investigation concluded that AWE's failings were “comprehensive and basic, particularly when compared with arrangements in place elsewhere in the company.”

It also found that: “The company did not pay sufficient attention to non-nuclear high hazard activities on site which it considered low risk”.

Despite AWE describing the incident as “a relatively small fire”, the HSE report states that the company was fortunate that it did not result in “numerous fatalities”.

The fire, on the night of August 3, 2010 left a Basingstoke-based member of AWE staff with burns to his face and arm, and required the evacuation of a number of local residents and the closure of roads around the site as safety precautions.

AWE plc, which operates the Atomic Weapons Establishment, pleaded guilty at Reading Crown Court on May 16 this year to failing to ensure the safety of its employees.

The company was fined £200,000 and was also ordered to pay over £80,000 in legal costs and £2,500 in compen-sation to the employee who was injured during the fire at the plant.

The HSE report found that AWE’s actions leading up to and on the night of the incident “fell far below the standard expected in an explosives manufacturing company”.

Peter Burt, from the Nuclear Information Service, said: “The blunt truth is that the Atomic Weapons Establish-ment put many lives at risk by taking an unacceptably lax approach to explosives safety.”

A spokesperson for AWE said: “Over the last three years, AWE has worked hard to implement all of the recommendations from our independently chaired investigation as well as those made by the Health and Safety Executive.

“As the judge noted in his remarks in the court case, the ‘HSE now assesses AWE overall as amongst the best in the UK in terms of health and safety procedures’.”

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