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Inquest told there were no safety barriers to stop steelworks death; WORKER DIED AFTER FALLING INTO MOLTEN METAL CHANNEL.


THE inquest into the death of a Welsh steelworker who fell into a channel of molten metal heard workers were issued with safety barriers after the accident but not before.

Father-of-two Kevin Downey, 49, put his life on the line helping to rescue colleagues in the 2001 Port Talbot Steel Works blast furnace explosion which killed three and badly injured 12.

But on April 25, 2005, Mr Downey, of Aberavon, was engulfed in steam at the Port Talbot plant where he was a blast furnace production co-ordinator.

Unable to see, he stumbled into a "slag runner", a channel of super hot slag which is a by-product of the iron making process.

He died in the burns unit at Swansea's Morriston Hospital hours later with his wife Tanya by his side.

The slag runner channel was usually protected by heavy metal covers but at the time of the accident the covers were off for cleaning.

Yesterday, the Swansea inquest heard from a blast furnace colleague of Mr Downey, Scott Courten.

Mr Courten said no barriers, which staff could put in place around slag runner channels when they were uncovered, were issued before Mr Downey died.

But he told the inquest jury: "The next night we had plenty of them."

When asked about the safety barriers by Dale Collins, representing the Health and Safety Executive, Mr Courten said: "We didn't have any [before the accident]."

Neath Port Talbot coroner Philip Rogers said to Mr Courten: "You've told us there were no barriers available before the accident but there were immediately afterwards.

"But do you remember anyone asking for barriers?" Mr Courten replied: "No. I didn't ask for any and I'm not aware of anyone else asking."

It was Mr Courten who pulled Mr Downey out of the slag channel.

The inquest has heard that, before he died, Mr Downey told colleagues he fell into the channel after being engulfed in hot steam and in doing so dropped his radio and had to call out for help.

Being showered with water by his workmates, he said: "I thought I was going to die in there."

As the accident happened Mr Courten said he started hearing a man's voice but thought it was "something mechanical" because it was repetitive.

He said he investigated and saw Mr Downey trying to haul himself out of the slag channel by his forearms.

He said: "The lower part of his body was still in the runner. He was heavy and I called out for help and managed to get him out, it took around 30 seconds."

Mr Courten told the inquest it was not unusual for the slag runner channels to be uncovered as they had to be cleaned of build-up.

When the fatal accident happened the channel had been cleaned but the covers were not put back in place because of a build up of steam caused by the cooling of hot slag by water.

Mr Courten said at the time of the accident, Corus, which then ran the plant, was trying to resolve the issue of steam build-up in the blast furnace area with the private contractors who cooled the slag and sold it on to the cement industry.

Mr Courten said: "You'd have steam nearly every cast (the act of emptying the blast furnace of iron) depending on where the wind was."

Another worker present in the blast furnace when Mr Downey was injured, Nigel Evans, agreed that it was not unusual for slag runner covers to be left off for relatively long periods.

The hearing has been told a pathologist put Mr Downey's death down to multiple organ failure and severe burns.

Mr Downey suffered full thickness burns to 80% of his body.

The inquest is expected to conclude today.


* Kevin Downey died after the incident at the Port Talbot works
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 16, 2011
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