Energy giant Scottish Power has been given a massive fine of £1.75 million for safety failures over the horrific burns a worker suffered at Longannet Power Station.
The firm was given the enormous financial penalty over serious health and safety failings at the facility, which sits on the River Forth near the Kincardine Bridge.
The company has announced it is appealing against the “level” of the fine.
In October 2013, plant controller David Roscoe suffered severe scalding injuries after being engulfed by steam that had escaped from a defective pipeline valve at the coal-fired power plant.
The fault was known about for more than four years but nothing was done to repair it, Dunfermline Sheriff Court heard. Sheriff Charles MacNair slammed the company’s safety procedures saying: “The system failed so woefully it cannot be described as a working system.”
Long-serving employee Mr Roscoe, who was 51 at the time, had to undergo major skin graft surgery and was unable to return to work.
The prosecution was brought against Scottish Power Generation Ltd, a subsidiary of Scottish Power and operator of the power station which is now closed.
Depute fiscal Louise Beattie previously told the court that the valve was identified as faulty in May 2009 when it was discovered an index plate was missing from it. At that time, the valve was “locked off” with a chain and padlock to prevent its use.
This was to be a short-term measure until a repair was carried out but this was never done. In March 2013, it was discovered that the chain and padlock had been removed. It has never been established who did this, when or why.
Fifteen days before the accident, a contractor saw steam was escaping from the valve. He filled in a work order card for the repair to be done within a month.
On October 12, 2013, Mr Roscoe saw steam coming from the valve and when he tried to stop this by turning it slightly he was badly scalded by steam, mainly to his lower body.
He sustained severe burns to his legs and also injuries to his arms and neck. He was rushed to Forth Valley Hospital accident and emergency before being transferred to the burns unit of Glasgow Royal Infirmary, where he was to spend the next four weeks.
He required extensive skins grafts to both legs and for three months had to go to the unit every second day for treatment.
He was unable to return to work and was medically retired last December.
Scottish Power Generation Ltd, of Atlantic Quay, Glasgow, admitted that between March 1 and October 12 2013 at Longannet Power Station, being an employer and having a duty in terms of health, safety and welfare of their employers, it failed to ensure the health and safety of employees who were required to work at unit four of the power station.
It admitted failing to maintain plant and a system of work that were safe and without risks to the health of employees in that it failed to ensure that a valve was maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair and failed to have a system in place to monitor the valve after it had been identified as faulty.
It further admitted that as a consequence, on October 12 2013, David Roscoe, an employee, was conducting routine plant checks in unit four when he observed steam emitting, turned the valve to close it, whereby he was engulfed in high pressure, high temperature steam to his severe injury, permanent disfigurement and permanent impairment.
The company’s QC Barry Smith said there was “a clear failure to ensure safety by maintaining that particular part of the plant in good repair”.
Sheriff Charles MacNair QC said the company’s level of culpability for the incident as “high”. He said there were too many safety questions to which they had no answers.
A fine of £2.5m was originally imposed but was reduced to £1.75m due to the timing of the company’s plea.
Despite the ‘discount’ Scottish Power is challenging the amount of the fine and has lodged an appeal at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh.
It is understood the appeal centres on the application of new English sentencing guidelines in health and safety cases.
Guidance issued in 2010 by the English Sentencing Council has been considered by the Appeal Court in Scotland – who say they “may be noticed” by courts passing sentence in health and safety cases.
But new guidance, issued in February this year, is yet to be considered.
It is understood part of the appeal relates to the way in which the sheriff sentencing Scottish Power used the new guidelines during the hearing.
A Scottish Power spokesperson said: “We fully accept responsibility for the incident and co-operated fully with the HSE investigation, implementing immediate changes to our procedures at Longannet.
“We also apologised unreservedly to Mr Roscoe for the distress caused by this accident and we provided assistance following the incident.
“We have subsequently appealed against the level of the fine.”