“I still remember noise of petrol fumes igniting”

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A mechanic who suffered severe burns when a fire broke out at a car salvage firm says he is still unable to return to work, more than three years later.

Lee Roberts went into an inspection pit to remove fuel from a van at Douglas Valley Breakers Ltd’s workshop on Blainscough Lane, Coppull, on July 22, 2010.

But the pit burst into flames and Mr Roberts, 33, ran out with some of his clothing on fire, Preston Crown Court heard on Thursday.

Mr Roberts, who lives in Wigan, suffered burns to 22 per cent of his body, mainly to his hands, legs and nose.

He still has pain in his fingertips and struggles with his grip, the court was told.

The firm was prosecuted and was fined £40,000 by the court and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £25,000.

After the hearing, Mr Roberts said: “I still remember the noise of the petrol fumes igniting and a wave of blue flames engulfing the pit. The pain was instant and intense.

“They put me into an induced coma to stop the pain and it was at least a couple of days later when I came around. When I woke up, I could feel the pain immediately.

“Even now, more than three years later, I still suffer flashbacks that cause me to wake in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.

“I haven’t been able to work since the accident and feel that I no longer want to be a car dismantler - the only trade I have ever known.”

Adrian Farrow, prosecuting, told the court it was company policy for a bowser to be used to siphon fuel, but instead the petrol tank was pierced and the fuel was drained into a container in the pit.

There was a risk of the fuel spilling or being blown onto the employee’s clothing, and the vapours could accumulate in the pit.

An investigation found the most likely cause of the fire was a spark from an electric drill or an extension lead in the pit.

The court was told that examination of CCTV footage in the workshop found other safety issues.

These included instances of workers climbing up storage racks and riding on the forks of a telehandler.

There were also no fire detectors and alarms and staff had not been given adequate fire safety training, the court heard.

The firm pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Dangerous Substances And Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002, one breach of the Work At Height Regulations 2005 and two breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

John Cooper, defending, said the firm had a turnover of £2.5m last year and employed 16 people at its three sites – one in Coppull and two in Wigan.

He told the court a bowser was present and there was a specific tool to pierce the fuel tank for “rare instances” when it could not be used.

Employees had been told where to assemble if there was a fire and there was a trained fire marshal, the court heard.

He said £36,000 had been spent buying the telehandler and a risk assessment was done.

Mr Cooper said: “What has happened here is a huge shock to this company.

“They have taken steps to make sure this can’t possibly happen again.”