Anglo-Dutch steel company Corus, currently in the midst of a takeover bid by India's Tata Steel and Brazil's CSN, has been fined more than three million pounds for breaching health and safety laws at a factory where an explosion killed three workers five years ago.
The giant steel maker was fined after it admitted at Swansea Crown Court that it had failed to ensure worker safety at its Port Talbot plant. Twelve workers were also injured in the fatal blast.
High Court Judge Justice Lloyd Jones fined Corus 1,330,000 pounds and ordered it to pay 1,744,474 pounds costs, saying Corus had "fallen short" of safety standards.
The explosion in 2001 destroyed blast furnace five, lifting it off its base and blasting out 200 tonnes of steel slag and hot gasses.
Len Radford, 53, from Maesteg, Andrew Hutin, 20 and Stephen Gatsworthy, 25, from Port Talbot, died in the blast. Corus admitted civil liability about a year after the explosion. Negotiations about compensation are still going on.
In his ruling on Friday Judge Jones launched a scathing attack on the company's safety record. "The lamentable catalogue of failures makes clear that this was an accident waiting to happen," the judge said.
He listed a series of previous health and safety breaches that Corus had been convicted of, and said that he saw these as aggravating features.
He said the company's health and safety record was "very poor" and the management attitude to safety "casual". The Judge went on to say that he saw the failures as "systemic" and no individual was to blame.
Corus said it was striving to improve safety and said its thoughts were with the families of the men killed and injured.
"We profoundly regret the tragic loss of life and grievous injuries caused by the unprecedented explosion of blast furnace No5 at Port Talbot on November 8, 2001," executive board member of Corus, Rauke Henstra said.
"During the hearing, Corus pleaded guilty in respect of our failings under the Health and Safety at Work Act. "We have always maintained that an explosion of the type and magnitude that occurred was neither foreseen nor was it foreseeable and this has been accepted by the prosecution," Henstra said.
In a statement, the Health and Safety Executive's director for Wales, Terry Rose, said: "This was systematic corporate management failure at the Port Talbot works.
"Proper management attention may have broken the chain of events which led to the explosion." The prosecution for which Corus was to stand trial until it entered a guilty plea at the last minute followed a Health and Safety Executive investigation.
Prosecutor Anthony Donne QC had told the court how expert advice, which could have averted the tragedy had been ignored. He blamed the company for "long-standing faults in company procedures" and "a pattern of failure and management" to react to warnings of the dangers faced by employees.
Donne told how Corus was "well aware" of the dangers as the company had been prosecuted over an incident at its Llanwern steelworks in 2000 when there had been an explosion after water mixed with molten metal.
Defence barrister Hugh Carlisle QC claimed on Friday that the company's admission should not be interpreted to mean it acknowledged it knew lives were at risk.