Two workers have narrowly avoided catastrophic injuries, after the fuel tank they were working in caught fire. After pleading guilty to a variety of charges, the company was fined $41,500.
In 2019, two workers entered an ISO tank to conduct refurbishment works. The tank had previously been used to hold diesel. One of the workers was a third-year apprentice.
To cut the tank’s internal walls, the workers were using an oxygen acetylene torch. Within minutes, thick smoke had filled the tank, and the floor was ablaze.
One worker was able to quickly escape, via a ladder. But the apprentice slipped, sliding to the base of the tank. Fortunately, the worker was able to grab him by the arm and pull him out of the tank to safety.
Initially, the company did not alert WorkSafe to the incident. But an anonymous tip-off prompted an investigation by inspectors.
They found that a company policy for both rescue plans and entering confined spaces was still under development. Furthermore, they found that there had not been enough instruction or training given for working in that environment.
Commenting on the incident, Narelle Beer, WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety, said, “poor ventilation, toxic gas and fire are just some of the risks that can be faced when undertaking this type of work.”
“Employers and supervisors have to be on high alert when it comes to the safety of their workers in confined spaces and clear and comprehensive procedures and proper training and instruction need to be provided.”
Ultimately, the dangers of working in the environment where this incident happened were well known, and employers have no excuse for not correctly controlling the risks.
As a result, the company was sentenced in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court. They pleaded guilty to the charge of failing to maintain a safe system of work, failing to provide information, instruction and training, and failing to notify WorkSafe of an incident. The company was fined $41,500.
Advice from the experts
To control the risks of working in confined spaces employers should:
First, consider whether the work can be done another way without entering the confined space. For example, provide outlets and facilities for cleaning to eliminate the need for entry.
Test the atmosphere to quantify the level of oxygen, atmospheric contaminants and any flammable gas or vapour present in the space. Then you can determine appropriate risk controls.
Ensure employees do not enter a confined space unless they have been issued with an entry permit for the space, and there is a stand-by person watching the work from outside the space.
Establish entry and exit procedures for the confined space, and emergency procedures. Ensure these are communicated to your employees.
Put signs on or near any confined space, and at each entry point, to warn that only people who have been properly trained and have an entry permit may enter.
Ensure appropriate respiratory protective equipment (air-supplied or air purifying) is used where required.
Provide employees with enough information, instruction and training to do their work safely and without risks to health. This may include for example, training in hazard identification and risk control methods, entry permit procedures, emergency procedures and use of respiratory protective equipment.
Put your own safety systems to the test
Had relevant steps been taken, this incident could have been prevented. It serves as a stark reminder to ensure that safety and compliance processes are scrutinised, gaps identified, and improvements put in place.
To help, we’ve developed a step-by-step machinery safety systems health check that walks you through each area of your safety systems and shows you how to improve.
It’s completely free to download, and simple to complete.
Disclaimer: This information is intended to provide general information on the subject matter. This is not intended as legal or expert advice for your specific situation. You should seek professional advice before acting or relying on the content of this information. Please contact us for further assistance.