The blast at Brayford Quarry in February 2011 sent rocks the size of hens’ eggs flying into vehicles outside of the danger zone.

Brayford Quarry.Brayford Quarry.

TWO companies have been ordered to pay £71,000 between them after a blast at Brayford Quarry which sent rocks flying outside of the danger zone.

Quarry operators Hanson Quarry Products Europe Ltd and contractors WCD Sleeman & Sons Ltd both pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety regulations.

North Devon Magistrates' Court heard the blast on February 24, 2011 saw rocks the size of hen's eggs flying into road.

Although no one was injured in the blast, several vehicles were damaged and the heaviest rock recorded weighed 8.5kg.

Dale Collins, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, said a blast specification was not adequately carried out and the rocks were overcharged.

He said loose rock on the surface of the quarry would have made it impossible to determine the burden of the hard rock below.

"It would have been difficult to assess the explosive charge required for firing," he said.

"The blast specification should have said that."

Mr Collins also said the holes drilled into the rock had been overcharged due to the explosives migrating through the rock.

David Hurcock, representing Sleeman & Sons, said the company was extremely disappointed in what had happened.

"This represents a mark on what's an otherwise clean safety record spanning nearly 40 years of working in this specialist industry," said Mr Hurcock.

"The company blasts eight million tonnes of rock a year with no previous convictions in 40 years of blasting that material."

The court heard the family firm had taken remedial action to change the health and safety procedures following the incident.

James Leonard, defending Hanson, said at the time a manager from the company was not at the site because no one had been available.

He said while totally lawful, this was not the normal practice.

"Hansons has a national profile in the quarrying industry," said Mr Hurcock.

"It was not foreseeable on the part of Hansons that Sleemans would deliver an inadequate blast specification because of their expertise in the industry."

Magistrates decided the risk of injury was so serious that they imposed the maximum fine possible.

Presiding Magistrate Roger Jackson said the bench did not except Hansons had any less culpability than Sleeman & Sons.

"We agree with using a reputable company but there should have been more communication," said Mr Jackson.

Both companies were fined £20,000 each with Hansons ordered to pay £14,000 in costs and Sleeman & Sons ordered to pay £17,000 in costs.

Speaking after the hearing Mike Tetley, HSE inspector of quarries, said: "This was a very serious incident that could easily have led to death or serious injury.

"Blasting operations at quarries are inherently high risk, and these risks must be rigorously controlled by good explosives engineering practice and in accordance with legal requirements.

"Where contractors are involved it is important that appropriate levels of communication and co-operation are in place.

"It is totally unacceptable for both members of the public and employees to be put at serious risk of being hit by rocks, as happened here in an entirely preventable incident.

"I hope this case sends a clear message to the industry that proper planning and control is required at all times."