A CEMENT company in Grays has been fined £130,000 by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after a worker was set on fire in an explosion.

Lafarge Cement UK, based in Oliver Close, was prosecuted after electrical engineer Paul Ridings, 39, from South Benfleet was engulfed by a fireball at the firm’s site at the Thurrock Marine Terminal.

Basildon Crown Court heard on November 5 that Mr Ridings was investigating a fault with an energy meter when he inadvertently disturbed a loose connection and exposed a strand of wire leading to an electrical explosion in October 2008.

Mr Ridings’ clothes caught fire and he sustained burns to his face, neck, chest, arms and hands.

He received emergency treatment and spent 19 days in the Specialist Burns Unit at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford.

Since the incident he has undergone numerous skin grafts and operations to remove scar tissue.

An investigation by the HSE found that Lafarge Cement UK Plc of Granite Way, Syston, Leicester failed to ensure electrical systems were maintained in such a way as to protect workers.

The company admitted breaching sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company was fined £130,000 and ordered to pay £29,742 of costs.

HSE inspector, David King said: “Every year approximately 20 people die from electrical shocks or burns following incidents at work. Mr Ridings could easily have been killed in this incident.

“It’s clear that in this case the overall arrangements for maintaining electrical assets were inadequate and the health and safety of both staff and contractors were put at risk.

“HSE will proactively prosecute any company exposing workers to these unnecessary risks.”

Lafarge Cement UK’s managing director, Dr Erdogan Pekenc said: “We sincerely regret this incident and have since taken steps to provide support to Mr Ridings and his family.

“The company has learned from the mistakes made; these learning points have been communicated worldwide with the aim of preventing any future such incidents.”