Electrician engulfed in fuse box fireball

Grant Prior 13 years ago
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An electrician suffered severe burns when a ball of fire shot out from a fuse box he was cleaning and set his clothes alight.

Gordon Metcalf, 62 from Maryport was lucky to survive and is still undergoing treatment for his burns – nearly five years after the incident. He will never be able to return to work

A global packaging firm has been fined £90,000 following the accident at a factory in Cumbria in 2006.

Carlisle Crown Court heard that Innovia Films Ltd discovered a fire in the fuse box during the previous afternoon but live cables had been routed through it so the cooling equipment at the factory could continue to operate.

This meant the company avoided having to shut down the plant for 36 hours to reset the machines.

When Metcalf and a colleague came into work the following morning they were asked to remove the debris from the fuse box and plate over the front to prevent access.

The court was told that a suitable risk assessment had not been carried out for the work, and that management at the company had allowed it to go ahead without the electricity supply being isolated.

Metcalf, who is married with two children and two grandchildren, suffered burns to 47%  of his body in the explosion. He was in a coma for four weeks, intensive care for six weeks and in hospital for five months.

He said: “I still cry at the drop of a hat. If someone asks what’s happened to me, that’s the hardest bit. I wake up in the middle of the night and just can’t get back to sleep once I start thinking about it.

“I remember the fireball just knocking me backwards, and I split my head open. I managed to get downstairs to some water, and only realised I was on fire when I saw my arm on the handrail.

“When I came out of hospital, I had to wear a suit over my head and body for a year and could only take it off to wash. I still have to apply cream three times a day to stop the scarring getting any worse.

“There’s no way I can return to return to work as an electrician as I struggle to grip with my hands. I’m also constantly short of breath and my skin flakes off if I knock my hand. I just wish Innovia had cut the electricity supply before asking us to do the work.”

Mark Dawson, HSE Principal Inspector for Cumbria, said: “It was an astonishing decision to allow work to go ahead without the live electricity supply being switched off, and even went against the company’s own work procedures.

“If the factory had been shut down for just a day and a half then neither of the workers would have suffered severe burns.”

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