Discount retailer must cough up £1 million after an electrician was set on fire during an explosion - as his body "blew up to four times its normal size". Shahenur Rahman was working at the company's headquarters in Speke, Merseyside, before the industrial accident which led to him being in a coma for two weeks.
Liverpool Crown Court heard today (July 20) that Mr Rahman was left needing skin grafts and surgery to save one of his hands. As the explosion took place, a "Catherine wheel of fire spiralled through the air", while his body swelled.
The court heard B&M had been advised by Leep Utilities in June 2018 that maintenance work was required on the high voltage switchgear at its HQ, which would have resulted in power to the building being cut. The company hired two generators from supplier Aggreko to maintain power supply and "allow some core functions" to continue, the Liverpool Echo reports.
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Aggreko suggested Bolton-based Daker be contracted to connect these generators. Work was to take place on Saturday, September 22 2018, in two areas of the site known as the "Vault" and the "Qube".
Upon arrival in the early morning, Daker employees - including Mr Rahman, who is also known as Sham - discovered that cables intended for the Vault had instead been delivered to the Qube by Aggreko. Craig Morris, prosecuting on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive, said that this "made what was already a tight timescale to work under even tighter".
Shortly before 8am, Mr Rahman was working alongside Daker director David Moran and self-employed electrician Alan Haddock by the main switch panel of the Vault. Mr Haddock, who was also working on-site that day, described a "pressurised atmosphere due to a shortage of time".
He told investigators: "David said to Sham 'there's the neutral, that's the one we want - watch the one on the left-hand side because it's live'. Seconds after that, there was an explosion. I have never seen anything like it before. It looked like a Catherine wheel - there was a red electrical flame spiraling in the air."
Mr Rahman's clothes were set alight, and his co-workers "rushed to his aid" and extinguished the flames. Believed to be aged in his 30s, he was rushed to Aintree Hospital and later transferred to Whiston Hospital.
The casualty suffered electrical burns to 15 per cent of his body - including on his arms, hands, thighs, legs and face. Mr Rahman was placed in an induced coma for a fortnight and was unable to work for five months - having previously described himself as a "workaholic".
He underwent skin grafts from his leg in order to fix facial scars, while his body was swollen to four times its usual size. His left hand was a risk of being lost, but doctors were able to save it.
Mr Rahman also suffered complications including septicaemia and pneumonia, and still requires two further operations as his fingers remain "curled up". In a statement read out to the court on his behalf, he described suffering flashbacks to the blast whenever he hears loud bangs.
His statement added: "I do worry about the future as I know the pain will never go away and might get worse, and I might be unable to support my family. It's a feeling of helplessness."
It is believed that that the trigger point was a spanner being used by Mr Rahman coming into close proximity with the live equipment. The HSE found a "series of failings" by both B&M and Daker in the planning and execution of the job.
Mr Morris said of the former: "This was their site and as such they were in a position to control who undertook the work and to ensure that such work was properly managed, undertaken in an organised manner according to a safe system of work and in compliance with any site rules that they deemed appropriate. They were advised of the need for the work as early as June of that year and had plenty of time to plan for the work, to select the appropriate contractors to undertake it and to take steps to ensure that those contractors worked to a safe system.
"Unfortunately however, they failed at the very first hurdle by putting a man in charge of overseeing the work who, at his own admission, was wholly unqualified to fulfil such a role. It was a role he simply wasn't capable of fulfilling, and one that he should never have been asked to undertake by his employer."
Site maintenance manager Jim Anders had been given the task of "overseeing a fairly complex and potentially dangerous project" despite having "no qualifications or experience in electrical work". He had "openly stressed his lack of knowledge and qualifications" in meetings in prior to the incident.
This also led to "unsafe practices" prior to the devastating accident. A maintenance operative was asked to remove the back of the switchgear panel at the Vault in the week beforehand so that photographs could be taken of the busbars.
This was done with the "power fully energised" in an "unnecessary and dangerous practice". B&M had allowed work to proceed despite not having received a requested risk assessment from Aggreko, while outside workers from Daker were not given inductions on the day.
The latter company meanwhile was only instructed to carry out the work days in advance. Mr Morris said of Daker: "It is a core safety principle that work should not take place on or near to a live conductor unless it is unreasonable for it to be dead.
"In other words, don't undertake work next to a live supply if it can be reasonably avoided. There was no need for the Daker workers to be working on or in close proximity to a live conductor and a proper assessment in advance of the work by Daker would have identified this.
"As experienced electrical contractors, the first issue that should have come into focus should have been to identify whether they could connect the generators whilst the electricity supply was dead - and had that assessment been made, the answer would have been yes. Instead of this, Daker appear not to have considered this fundamental issue and to have accepted that live working was necessary and that the same should be undertaken in a relatively tight timescale.
"Whilst Daker's failings took place in the context of having been instructed much later in the planning stage than others and in an environment in which it was being asked to work to unrealistic timescales, those failings were nevertheless significant and it ultimately let Mr Rahman down badly."
Mark Watson QC, who appeared via video link in defence of B&M, apologised on behalf of his client - whose chief financial officer Alex Russo was present during part of the hearing. Mr Watson said: "His statement speaks of the horrific injuries sustained by him.
"The consequences are clearly significant and life-changing for him, and the company would like to take this opportunity to express regret and sympathy for the issues and trauma he has suffered. The company is in a position to give assurances that its systems and procedures have been put right to ensure that this situation will not be repeated.
"Save for this incident, the company has a good safety record. It has millions of individuals attending its stores and sites, and its systems and procedures have ensured that they are safe."
Mr Watson added that B&M had "put too much faith" in Aggreko, and had not been "looking to cut corners. He said: "The company frankly admits its failings and profoundly apologises for the consequences."
Daker meanwhile was described as a family-run "micro company" dating back to the 1950s which has since ceased trading, with only £200 remaining in the company's bank account. Peter Smith, defending, described how it had been forced to fold after its insurance premiums ballooned from £900 to more than £12,000 per year following the explosion.
The business has not yet been formally wound up however. Daker's previous directors also included Mr Moran's wife Julie and their sons Liam and Daniel.
Mr Smith added: "Mr Moran and his family are genuinely sorry for the breach in this case, and especially the injuries sustained by Mr Rahman. Sham was not only a colleague of the Morans, but he is a close friend of Liam's.
"The pressurised situation was created by others, out of Daker's control. Even in the best run houses, accidents can take place and this particular house wasn't as well run as it should have been.
"What we're faced with here is a company which was clearly operating at a substantial loss. The situation was pretty dire."
B&M Retail Limited admitted two health and safety breaches, while Daker Limited pleaded guilty to one. Neither defendant has previous convictions for such matters.
The discounter was fined £1m and told to pay £4,978.30 in court costs plus a £170 victim surcharge. Daker would have faced a £12,000 fine, but this was reduced to a "nominal" amount of £100 due to its "dire financial straits".
Sentencing, Judge Robert Trevor-Jones said: "Quite clearly, these were horrific injuries with pertinent consequences. Mr Moran effectively instructed Mr Rahman to continue working in close proximity to live equipment."
Of B&M, the judge added: "This was a complex project that necessitated careful coordination. Unfortunately, the defendant had no real control of the project."
Both B&M and Daker were given 28 days to pay the sums imposed.
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