Second safety prosecution of AWE in two years

In September the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) announced the prosecution of the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) for breaching health and safety legislation. The prosecution relates to a June 2019 incident when a contractor narrowly avoided injury from a high voltage electrical arc.

In November 2018 AWE pleaded guilty over an accident when an employee suffered electrical burns to their forearm. The court fined them £1m, the maximum fine for an accident of that type.

In the 2018 accident a member of the electrical maintenance team inserted a piece of cable into an electrical cabinet and made contact with an exposed bus bar. The bus bar was live and carrying a 400 volt current.

Following the prosecution ONR said: “This related to a conventional safety hazard and should have been avoided – and indeed would have been – had the right procedures and processes for safety been in place. Fortunately, in this case the individual involved was not seriously harmed but easily could have been.”

ONR say the 2019 incident occurred in a non-nuclear facility and that there was no radiological risk to the public. They have not released any further details about the incident. ONR regulates non-nuclear health and safety on licensed sites as well as nuclear safety,

During the prosecution of AWE in 2018 the judge criticised AWE’s failure to learn from a similar incident in 2015. On that occasion ONR sent AWE an enforcement letter, but either did not act or did not take sufficient action. The judge also reduced the size of AWE’s fine, in part due to ‘a good overall safety record’. ONR have kept AWE under enhanced regulatory attention for seven years.

The trial for the 2019 incident is scheduled for December 7th 2020 at High Wycombe Magistrate’s Court.

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