Owner was ‘confused’ after Darlaston factory explosion death
The owner of a factory site where a man died when a tank containing methanol exploded claimed he “may have been confused” when he told police it was empty, an inquest heard.
Worker Raymond Wyman, 34, fell from the four-metre tank where he had been operating an oxypropane gas cutter when the blast occurred in October 2016. He was airlifted to hospital but died a week later from his injuries.
Sukhjinder Singh Khera, boss of KTC Edibles, which had taken over the factory in Heath Road, Darlaston, told the inquiry the previous owner had left machinery at the site after going into administration. This included two large tanks, one of nitrogen and the other of methanol.
Mr Khera said he struck a deal with a firm called NKD Machinery to dismantle them and other equipment at the site.
He was presented with risk assessments and two method statements, or safety work plans, by NKD to show that the firm had the safety credentials to carry out the work.
Asked what he knew about the tanks and their contents, he said he had “zero information” about them, and no paperwork for the ethanol tank. But Mr Khera’s statement to police, in which he described the tanks as empty, was read to the inquiry.
The company boss conceded: “I am happy to accept I was confused under pressure.”
He explained he was interviewed just hours after the explosion when emergency services were still at the site. “There was so much going on,” he said.
He told the inquest, when quizzed, he had no recollection of discussions with NKD about the necessity of bringing in an independent firm to drain the tank first because of a warning by NKD’s safety consultant that methanol was highly flammable.
Mr Khera had not inspected the tanks and once he had shaken hands on the deal with NKD he considered it their responsibility to drain the tanks if necessary. There was no formal contract to carry out the work, the jury heard.
He insisted he had confidence in NKD’s competence to safely dismantle the tanks for removal, as they had worked for some very large companies, including Coca Cola.
“I felt I was employing a very capable company,” he said.
He insisted he took health and safety issues very seriously, adding that, looking back: "I'm not sure what I personally could have done differently."
Mr Wyman, a father of six from Pensnett, had worked for NDK for just a month when the tragedy happened. The cutting torch he was using is thought to have ignited the methanol, causing the blast.
The inquest continues.
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