THE company which runs the Ministry of Defence weapons testing site at Shoebury could be prosecuted after a blunder during the disposal of explosives.

QinetiQ said no staff were injured, but the mishap had to be reported to the Health and Safety Executive.

The firm would not go into detail about the “incident” but said it happened in a specific “cage burning” area where ammunition is incinerated to remove explosives.

Following subsequent inspections, the watchdog rapped the firm for failing to ensure the health and safety of staff disposing of explosives.

Inspectors found the risk assessments carried out on staff responsible for preparing explosive items for disposal were insufficient.

Employees had also not been given all the relevant advice, according to the watchdog which found two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act and served an improvement notice ordering action to be taken.

A QinetiQ spokeswoman said: “Demilitarisation of life-expired munitions by cage burning is a routine operation conducted regularly at Ministry of Defence Shoeburyness.

“As with all hazardous activities conducted on site, this process had been risk assessed and conducted by fully trained staff.

“During the preparation of a cage burning operation, an incident occurred, in which no one was injured. In accordance with QinetiQ's procedures this was appropriately reported to the Health and Safety Executive who subsequently requested that QinetiQ reviews its processes and the associated risk assessment.”

About 300 people work at the site with up to 11 involved in the cage burning The firm said it had taken the appropriate steps to ensure all improvements were addressed.

The notice said: “You have not made a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of employees, or provided the relevant information from the assessment to employees, involved in the preparation of explosive articles for disposal by cage burning.”

Although QinetiQ has now complied with the notice, the executive could still prosecute the firm over the original failings.

An executive spokeswoman said: “The HSE investigation is ongoing, so we cannot comment further.”