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January 2020

Kerosene fireball engulfs worker

Kerosene fireball engulfs worker

SafeWork NSW v CRS NSW Pty Ltd (2017)

Facts

In 2015, CRS NSW (Company) was sealing a driveway at a worksite in Wagga Wagga. The cold weather solidified some spilled substance on the side of the company vehicle. The director of the Company then tried to remove it by heating the side of the vehicle with an open flame LPG torch. This same 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.

Judgment

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 s 26 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW). The Company was fined $160,000 and the director was fined $40,000.

Lessons

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.

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