A WORKER suffered fractures to his hand when a drum which had contained a chemical exploded as he cut it up, a court was told yesterday.

Mark Griffin also needed four stitches to his head after the explosion at the Teesport depot of East Coast Slag Products in November last year.

The company which employed Mr Griffin was fined £5,000 and was ordered to pay £1,191 costs by magistrates on Teesside. The company, a subsidiary of the Tarmac group, admitted failing to ensure the safety of Mr Griffin.

Jonathan Pickering, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said Mr Griffin, 41, was cutting into the 205-litre drum, which had contained methylene chloride. He was using an oxygen propane gas cutting torch as two other employees watched. Within seconds, the drum exploded, causing fractures to his right hand and injuring his head. The other two workers were unharmed.

Mr Pickering said that flame-cutting or heat work of any kind on drums which had contained substances should be avoided if possible. He said: "This incident, I believe, could have been easily prevented. This type of incident can produce fatal injuries. The HSE sees this type of incident every year involving the cutting of drums. Industry should be well aware of the hazards and be avoiding it or applying the proper controls."

Andrew Crouch, for the company, said Mr Griffin had made a good recovery and was now back at work. His continuing employment with the company was not at risk as a result of the accident.

Mr Crouch said Mr Griffin had been cutting the drum at his own instigation. It was not something he had been directed to do, but the company accepted its responsibility towards its employees and it should have prevented this sort of action being carried out.

Two weeks before the accident the company had been preparing draft health and safety policies which would have tackled issues such as the cutting of drums, but the draft policy had not filtered down to individual members of staff by the time of the accident.

The company was making sure all employees understand the hazards involved, said Mr Crouch