WorkSafe Victoria took action against an employer after a subcontractor it had hired suffered serious burns when an empty chemical drum exploded.
WorkSafe Victoria v Crawford Containers Pty Ltd (2015)
On 13 January 2014, a subcontracted welder and fabricator was using an angle grinder to cut the top off two 205-litre drums. He successfully cut the top off the first drum, but while cutting the top off the second drum it exploded and he was thrown backwards into a tool rack. He suffered second-degree burns to his torso, neck and shoulders, which required skin grafts.
Tests later revealed that the second drum had previously contained polychloroprene and other combustible substances that could easily ignite and burn. Drums at the site were often converted into scrap bins, but there were no procedures in place to assess the contents or clean the drums.
Crawford Containers pleaded guilty to one charge under section 21 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Vic) 2004 for failing to provide a safe system of work and was convicted for its preparation of 44-gallon drums for use as scrap metal containers. The company was fined $35,000, plus $3,577 in court costs.
Lessons for employers
Businesses need to ensure that safe work procedures are put in place to identify and remove hazards. This case demonstrates that there was a failure to identify that residual liquid in a drum can still pose a risk of combustion.
To avoid a similar incident occurring in your workplace, be certain to take the following steps:
- complete risk assessments before commencing work;
- provide adequate instruction and training to workers;
- ensure new workers are adequately supervised by competent persons;
- ensure there is adequate communication between all stakeholders; and
- prepare safe system of work documents in consultation with workers.