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January 2020

High-risk explosion injures two workers

High-risk explosion injures two workers

SafeWork NSW v Auschem (NSW) Pty Ltd (2017)

Facts

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 the decanting was taking place, there was a stream of thinners between the two containers that ignited and caused an explosion. One worker suffered burns to his body and another worker received cuts to his head.

Judgment

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. Auschem also agreed by consent to pay the prosecutor’s costs of $31,000.

Lessons

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.

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