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University fined after worker injured by small bomb

January 7 2016

Cranfield University has been fined £80,000 after a worker suffered injuries which could have been life-threatening when dismantling a bomblet.

The worker was one of three employees from the Explosives Research Section at the Defence Academy of the university tasked with deactivating bomblets – small bombs contained inside a cluster bomb – in February 2011.

The bomblets were being deactivated at the university’s Shrivenham Campus, so they could be used in future demonstrations.

During the deactivation one of the bomblets exploded, leaving the worker with serious injuries. His right colon was damaged by a shard of metal and had to be removed. He also suffered nerve damage to his right hand, severe abdominal injuries, and received lacerations to his face and shoulder.

Swindon Crown Court heard that the university’s management team were unaware of the process the workers were using to break down explosives. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the system of working was unsafe because no suitable risk assessment had been carried out for this activity.

The university, of Cranfield, Bedfordshire, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 4 (1) of the Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations 2005, and Section 2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The university was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay costs of £75,000 by the court.

HSE inspector Evan Bale said: “The worker’s injuries were life-threatening and could have been avoided had a thorough assessment of the risks been carried out. As the university admitted, the task should not have been carried out in this manner.

“This case reinforces the fact that employers need to ensure all activities, especially those that are novel or only undertaken infrequently, have been properly assessed as to the associated hazards and risks, and that safe systems of work are in place to effectively control these risks.

“Cranfield University is properly recognised internationally for its explosives research and teaching, but in this particular case the standards for managing safety fell far short of what should have been in place.”