A man is being treated in hospital for burns after a “fireball” engulfed him at an industrial plant in the Highlands.
The worker was seriously hurt when flames erupted from an oven at SGL Carbon in the Muir of Ord Industrial Estate, at around 1.30am on Wednesday.
Another member of staff told STV News this was the second incident in four months despite several complaints to management that equipment was not safe.
He said: “It’s part of the job, we know there’s fires, these ones are different. It’s been getting worse.
“A fireball came out and set one of our deputy team leaders on fire.”
The SGL worker said had it not been for the quick actions of colleagues the injured man could have died.
The Muir of Ord site manufactures various components from carbon fibers which involves using a series of ovens to heat them to higher temperatures.
The ovens fill with toxic fumes which are then removed through an exhaust and treated by a regenerative thermal oxidizer (RTO).
The SGL worker told STV News that staff believe the RTOs have not been functioning properly and that this led to a build-up of combustible gas inside the oven.
Stephen Easton, SGL Carbon’s site director, said that early analysis suggests the cause was “residual fibre left in the oven”.
STV has seen communications from GMB to its members at the plant stating the union demanded urgent improvements in health and safety.
In response, the GMB email said, SGL will reduce output of the affected line by 10% to “assess the impact this may have on any future issues” and invest in fire retardant head PPE (personal protective equipment).
GMB Organiser John McCartney said: “We have been in full consultation with the employer since a serious incident on Wednesday morning.
“The matter is under investigation but we have told SGL we expect drastic safety improvements at the site and a number of specific interventions in the interim period, to which the employer has agreed.
“Our members’ safety at work is paramount, we will continue to monitor the situation very closely, and we wish the workers affected a speedy recovery.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said: “We were alerted at 1.35am on Wednesday, February 3, to reports of a fire within an industrial unit in Muir of Ord, Highland.
“Operations Control mobilised four fire appliances.
“One man was taken to hospital by the Scottish Ambulance Service.
“Crews left the scene after ensuring the area was made safe.”
On Wednesday, October 28, 2020, a “localised over-pressurisation event” occurred at around 5.47am.
No members of staff were injured but the Ross-shire Journal reported a worker lost their footing during the incident.
Mr Easton told the local paper: “Our operations staff on shift at the time did an excellent job under challenging circumstances.
“Our standard procedures were successfully followed in relation to this type of incident and [HSE] has been informed. We evacuated the building and closed all lines as a precautionary measure while a full incident investigation takes place.”
In September, 2020, SGL Carbon was fined £12,000 after an employee was was crushed while carrying out maintenance on a RTO.
Inverness Sheriff Court was told that, on April 25, 2016, Cameron Fraser was working at SGL when he became trapped inside the RTO and suffered soft tissue injuries to his right hip and a fracture to his lower right leg.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found a series of failings on the part of SGL.
HSE inspector Mac Young said: “This injury was easily preventable. Employers should make sure they properly assess risks and apply effective control measures to minimise the risk from dangerous parts of machinery.”
STV News understand HSE inspectors will visit the Muir of Ord site on Friday, February 5.
Mr Easton said: “In the early hours of Wednesday morning (1.21am, February 3, 2021) a process fire occurred in one of the ovens within our Muir of Ord site.
“Unfortunately, one of our team received burns, mainly to their hands, during the incident and were transferred to hospital.
“Their colleagues in the area and the two first aiders on site were very quick to respond and did an excellent job to cool the burn areas using water and cooling gel prior to the ambulance service arriving.
“The police and fire service were also in attendance, but the fire had already been contained by activation of our process water sprinkler system which is there to manage such an event.
“An open discussion has been held this week to consult with staff on improvements that could be made. Early route cause analysis is pointing towards residual fibre left in the oven.
“We are currently carrying out a full incident investigation. We would like to thank our team and the emergency services for their quick responses.
“Our thoughts at this time are with our colleague and we will closely monitor and support his recovery.”
HSE has been contacted for comment.