Hefty fine imposed in relation to incidents of exposure to hazardous chemical
The Geelong Magistrates’ Court has imposed a significant fine of $110,000 on a business that failed to protect workers from the escape of hazardous chemicals as well as failing to notify the regulator of a serious incident that exposed two workers to harm.
Viva Energy Refining Pty Ltd operates an oil refinery in Geelong, which in part produces alkylate for use in the manufacture of avgas and petrol. To produce the alkylate, the company uses hydrofluoric acid, which is hazardous and acutely toxic. The acid burns can be severe and extremely painful, even causing death.
Part of the work process required workers to check in the sample cabinet the water content and strength of the acid twice a week. On 5 November and 4 December 2017, two workers were exposed to the acid when they allowed it to flow into the lines of the sample cabinet and it leaked.
Each worker was wearing helmet, goggles and PVC gauntlet gloves, which was categorised by the company as Class A personal protective equipment (PPE). In fact, this PPE was the lowest level class of PPE required for working with the acid. Class B PPE was required whenever they worked on equipment that contained or may have contained the acid, and Class C PPE whenever the acid was allowed to flow through the lines connected to the sample cabinet when an employee was taking a sample. Class C PPE consisted of an air-feed hood, acid proof PVC fully enclosed boiler suit, PVC boots and outer gloves with Butyl inner gloves, and a full respire air fed acid resistant suit with independent oxygen supply.
The Court heard that while the requirements were being met in 2014, by September 2017 the company reduced the PPE requirements. As a result of the incident on 4 December 2017, an employee was treated at the Geelong University Hospital.
The company pleaded guilty to a failure to ensure safety as well as a failure to notify the December incident. The company was fined $100,000 for the substantive breach and $10,000 for the failure to notify. The company was also ordered to pay costs of $11,458.
The Court also stated that had the company not entered a plea of guilty, the sentence the Court would have imposed would have been $350,000.
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