Unite member compensated after life threatening explosion caused by makeshift heating system16 July 2013
Suffered severe burns to his face and hands
A heavy goods vehicle mechanic who suffered life-threatening injuries after the explosion of a makeshift heating system at work has received compensation from his employers, with the help of Unite the Union.
David Loade, 52, who worked at a transport depot in Gloucestershire, suffered severe burns to his face and hands after he was instructed to help his supervisor replace a 45-gallon drum being used to burn wood pellets. The drum was part of a makeshift heating system being used by his employers, Wincanton Group, after they failed to fix a boiler that had broken down three weeks earlier.
Spent two weeks in intensive care following the incident
David spent two weeks in intensive care following the incident in December 2010, which happened after he was instructed to replace the drum that had buckled from the heat. His supervisor attempted to use a blowtorch to cut the top off the drum but it exploded as soon as the flame touched the surface. An investigation showed that the drum had previously contained the flammable liquid antifreeze.
The flames engulfed David, who was standing a foot away from the drum. He was rushed to hospital in an air ambulance and spent two weeks in a critical condition. He was discharged from hospital after five weeks following a series of skin grafts taken from his thigh to repair the skin on both of his hands and was also treated for internal burns caused by inhaling the flammable liquid.
Could not speak properly because his vocal chords had been damaged
Following the accident, Wincanton Group management failed to contact David to check the progress of his recovery, even when he was unable to return to work for ten months. During this time he could not speak properly because his vocal chords had been damaged from swallowing the flammable liquid.
When David was eventually able to return to work, his role was limited as he had to protect his hands, which were very sensitive due to the skin grafts. The scars are still visible and his voice will be permanently affected.
Contacted Unite Legal Services to investigate a claim for compensation
Two months after the accident, David contacted Unite Legal Services to investigate a claim for compensation.
Although Wincanton Group admitted primary liability, accepting that they had been in breach of health and safety regulations, it actually attempted to blame David for contributing to the accident, a claim which was never accepted or proved.
David said: “There was nothing on the drum to warn me that its previous contents had been flammable. The burns to my face were so severe that while I was in intensive care I was unrecognisable to my family. I feel that I am lucky to be alive.
“It was a long road to recovery and to be partly blamed for an accident caused by my employer's absolute failure to protect my safety was a bit hard to take."
Employers have a duty to their employees to provide a safe working environment
Trevor Hall from Unite the Union said: “Employers have a duty to their employees to provide a safe working environment – this is a fundamental right for every employee. As a result of a faulty heating system and the failed attempts to fix it, the mechanics in the depot had their safety put at risk just to keep warm.
“Instructing staff to heat the depot in the way they did was appalling and it is clear that this was a completely avoidable accident. Had the Wincanton Group respected basic health and safety procedures by fixing the heating sooner or sending staff home until the conditions were safe, David would not have sustained these life-changing injuries.
“I’m glad we have been able to bring this case to its rightful conclusion, and thank Thompsons Solicitors for their assistance in securing compensation for our member.”
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