Norwich firm fined £1m over explosion which killed much-loved father

Rob Cranston, a well-known cricketer, died from injuries sustained in an explosion at Briar Chemical

Rob Cranston, a well-known cricketer, died from injuries sustained in an explosion at Briar Chemicals in Norwich. Picture: SwardestonCC/Twitter - Credit: @SwardestonCC/Twitter

Briar Chemicals Ltd has been fined £1 million after a man died in an explosion in Norwich.

Chelmsford Magistrates Court heard how maintenance contractor Robert Cranston, 46, was carrying out repair work on a mixing vessel during a planned period of shutdown maintenance.

It is thought that his welding torch or grinder accidentally ignited flammable Toluene vapour inside the vessel which should not have been present when the work commenced.

Briar Chemicals Ltd failed to take all necessary measures to prevent the explosion and pleaded guilty to a breach of Regulation 5 of the COMAH Regulations 2015. The company was fined £1million and ordered to pay costs of £10,967.20

Police were called to Briar Chemicals on Sweet Briar Road at about 3.10pm on Friday (July 27) to rep

Police were called to Briar Chemicals on Sweet Briar Road at about 3.10pm on July 27, 2018 to reports of an explosion. Photo: Luke Powell - Credit: Archant

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Mrs F Bailey, who lead the three-year investigation, said: “This was a complex and highly technical investigation, due to the chemical hazards on site and the number of underlying issues which combined to cause the explosion.  


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"HSE hope that this case helps to communicate important safety messages to wider industry so that other fires and explosions are prevented in future.

“Any company handling or storing flammables should consider the potential risk of fire and explosion and ensure they have robust procedures in place to minimise and control risk at all times, including during planned maintenance work.”

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The fatal explosion happened on July 27, 2018 with police officers being called to the plant at about 3.10pm.

The 46-year-old was taken to Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, but died later that day from head and chest injuries.

Mr Cranston’s son Owen, aged 22, was working alongside his father when he was killed in the blast, though was not injured. 

The HSE investigation also found that two damaged valves situated above the vessel in the Toluene supply pipe, were leaking. Operatives had been instructed to transfer a large quantity of Toluene from one storage tank to another via this pipe which allowed additional flammable liquid to leak into the vessel which was supposed to be empty and clean. 

In a Victim Impact Statement read out in court, Mr Cranston’s widow, Claire, said: “We married on August 16 2003; he would have been 50 years old this year. He was so well-known and liked. I had his funeral at the Norwich Cathedral, there were over 750 people in attendance.

“This has obviously been horrendous for both our sons, particularly Owen having to deal with actually being there at the time. Our lives changed forever that day.

"We will never forget him and are only left wondering what the future would have held for us all together. We were still young enough to have had years of happiness ahead. He will miss seeing our sons’ lives develop and grandchildren in years to come.”

At the time of his death, tributes were given to the Lakenham man, who was known as a hard worker and an avid sportsman.

Potters Shield winners, from left – Lewis, Owen and Rob Cranston with Mark Brewer. Picture: Teresa

Robert Cranston (right) pictured with his sons Lewis (left) and Owen (middle). - Credit: Archant

Mr Cranston played for Eaton Cricket Club for 15 years before his death and had been integral to a seniors game between Eaton and Saxlingham cricket clubs the night before the incident, which was won by Eaton.

He was employed by pipework and steelwork firm Pruce Newman at the Briar Chemicals site.

Robert Cranston pictured with his wife, Claire. Mr Cranston died following an explosion at Briar Chemicals in Norwich

Robert Cranston pictured with his wife, Claire. Mr Cranston died following an explosion at Briar Chemicals in Norwich - Credit: Cranston family

A spokesperson paid tribute to him at the time and said: "Rob was a key member of the Pruce Newman team for over 10 years, always professional and enthusiastic in everything he did.

"He will be sorely missed as a highly skilled craftsman, supervisor, colleague, mentor, inspiration and, above all, friend, to everyone who knew him."

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