Employer fined $285k

Employer fined $285k over fatal explosion

A Victorian employer has been fined $285,000 for failing to provide employees with vented cabinets to safely transport highly-flammable gas cylinders, after a worker died when his work van exploded.

The County Court also found the employer failed to train its workers in how to safely store and transport the cylinders.

In December 2011, the 25-year-old Cool Dynamics Refrigeration (CDR) mechanic was entering his employer-provided van at his home when the vehicle exploded, damaging neighbouring houses and sending parts of the van onto nearby roofs.

The worker died in hospital a few hours later.

The employer pleaded guilty to breaching the State OHS Act, in failing to maintain a safe system of work; failing to provide information, instruction, training and supervision; and failing to ensure people other than employees weren’t exposed to health and safety risks.

The Court heard the employer’s work vans carried cylinders of flammable gases such as acetylene, which only needed a “very slight” ignition source to ignite when mixed with air, and the most likely source of the van’s explosion was the door-activated light switch, which generated a small electrical arc when the door was opened.

It found the van’s cylinder cabinets didn’t have vents to allow leaking gas to escape to the outside of the vehicles.

WorkSafe Victoria health and safety executive director Marnie Williams said there were simple measures the employer could have taken to avoid the incident, such as installing ventilated cabinets that were airtight on the inside, and extra ventilation in the van, such as rotary roof vents.

“It is important that gas cylinders should not be kept in the van for long periods when they are not being used,” she said.

“The breaches that the company has pleaded guilty to are serious and the consequences of such failings are catastrophic.”

As reported by OHS Alert, a Northern Territory worker was killed in similar circumstances just four days after the CDR mechanic’s death (see related article).

The Northern Territory worker’s employer, Damday Pty Ltd, was fined $120,000 for safety breaches.

High fine and costs for labour-hire worker’s death

Western Australia employer BTP Equipment Pty Ltd has been fined $195,000, plus $100,000 in costs, for failing to provide a safe work environment, after a labour-hire fitter was killed while performing maintenance on a haul truck.

In December 2010, the fitter was working on the truck’s suspension cylinder unit at Fortescue Metal Group’s Cloudbreak iron ore mine in the Pilbara, when the end plug ejected under pressure from the strut and hit him.

Department of Mines and Petroleum state mining engineer Andrew Chaplyn said the strut had been removed the night before but hadn’t been depressurised, as required by the original equipment manufacturer’s procedure.

He said additional work was performed on the strut, which resulted in the end plug being jammed into the strut in such a way that it became unstable and unrestrained.

It was likely the worker was unaware that the strut was under high pressure while he was working on it, he said.

The employer, which pleaded guilty to breaching the State Mines and Safety Inspection Act 1994, introduced a number of procedural changes following the incident, but “these changes were too late to prevent the tragic death of [the worker]”, Chaplyn said.

“It is a tragic reminder of what can happen when safety isn’t given the priority it deserves.”

Fatality caused by lack of training and risk assessment

The Perth Magistrates Court has fined an employer $90,000, plus $70,000 in costs, for failing to ensure the safety of two labour-hire workers, after one of them was killed when he was struck by plant.

In October 2010, the two boilermakers were fabricating a cylindrical rotary cooler at RCR Mining Pty Ltd’s premises using an adjustable spider when the spider fell from the cylinder onto one of the workers.

The Court heard that the spider was supported from above by chains from a crane and the two workers used an elevated work platform (EWP) to access and tighten the “legs” of the spider to make the rotary cooler completely cylindrical.

An RCR employee then took the EWP for another job, forcing the workers to rotate the cylinder to access the spider’s legs.

To do so, they disconnected the chains under the mistaken belief the spider was securely placed in the cylinder, and it fell.

The Court heard that RCR failed to train the workers – who had never used a spider before – in the task and failed to ensure they complete a risk assessment.

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Lex McCulloch said the employer had no procedure requiring the spider to be continually attached to a crane until it had been securely attached to the cylinder.

“In this case, the spider had not been securely attached and, tragically, the workers performing the task for the first time did not realise that,” he said.

“This case is a sad reminder of the crucial importance of ensuring that the workplace is a safe one and that workers are adequately trained, instructed and supervised, and that risk assessments are properly carried out for hazardous tasks.”