By Michael Selinger
In today’s bulletin, we highlight two cases where flammable liquids caused explosions and injured workers, resulting in hefty fines for the respective businesses. According to the courts, both incidents could have been avoided had risk assessments been conducted.
In the first case (SafeWork NSW v Auschem (NSW) Pty Ltd (2017)), two workers were decanting all-purpose thinners from a leaking 1,000L bulk container into another bulk container. The leaking container was resting on a pair of forklift tines during the decanting process. While this was taking place, a stream of thinners between the two containers ignited and caused an explosion. One worker suffered burns to his body and another worker received cuts to his head.
Judge Russell emphasised at trial that the volatility of thinners was a well-known risk. The widespread knowledge of this risk could be found in the relevant Australian Standards, the Work Health and Safety Code of Practice for managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace as well as in Auschem’s own safety data sheets.
Despite the available safety information, Auschem did not take reasonable steps to minimise the risk; there was no risk assessment, and workers were not provided with any training or any information. Auschem failed to implement the Standards and the Code, and it was operating with unsafe systems of work.
As a result of this failure, Auschem was fined $60,000 and had to pay the prosecutor’s costs of $31,000.
Lessons for you
This is another example of a company being fined for failing to implement available strategies designed to minimise well-known risks. The process of decanting thinners in such high volume should have been accompanied by suitable safety procedures.
The second case
In SafeWork NSW v CRS NSW Pty Ltd (2017), CRS NSW (the Company) was sealing a driveway at a worksite in Wagga Wagga in 2015.
The cold weather solidified some spilled substance on the side of the company vehicle. The director of the Company tried to remove it by heating the side of the vehicle with an open flame LPG torch.
The vehicle also had ruptured pipelines with traces of kerosene in them. The LPG flame ignited the kerosene, creating a fireball that engulfed a worker on the property next door.
The District Court ruled the director of the Company created the risk of the explosion. The evidence presented at trial showed that the director had modified the vehicle’s water tank, allowing it to hold kerosene. The Judge emphasised that this modification went directly against the manufacturer’s recommendations. On top of this, neither the director nor the company performed a risk assessment before deciding to use kerosene in the vehicle.
The fireball incident was declared a breach of both the director’s and the company’s duty of care. It was also seen as a breach of duty for safely operating plant under section 26 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW). The Company was fined $160,000 and the director was fined $40,000.
Lessons for you
The dangerous combination of kerosene and an open flame created a situation where there was a high likelihood of harm. The fireball incident may never have occurred if precautions had been taken to ensure that the tank manufacturer’s recommendations were followed.