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Safe work procedures can save lives

A company has been fined $600,000 for a fatality involving work in a confined space with no isolation procedures in place. The case (SafeWork NSW v DIC Australia Pty Limited [2021]) is an important lesson for all employers to ensure that safe work procedures are implemented when potentially high-risk activities are being undertaken.

DIC Australia Pty Ltd (DIC) operates an ink manufacturing plant at Auburn, NSW. As part of its operations, an ink holding tank was fitted with an agitator assembly to stir the ink product to prevent carbon residue from sinking to the bottom. When residue gradually accumulated in the holding tank, efforts were made to wash out the residue by entering the tank to manually clean the residue.

On 7 December 2017, a worker was contracted to clean the holding ink tank. While working inside the tank, the agitator blade activated, crushing the worker’s legs. The worker suffered a cardiac arrest and died at the scene. Two other workers at the plant who entered the tank to assist were also injured and sustained leg injuries.

The Court found that DIC failed to provide the contractor workers with any relevant information on the electrical configuration of the ink holding tank. Critically, information was not provided about the fact that the tank did not have an external isolator switch or that an electrician was needed to isolate the plant. In addition, DIC had no requirement for the tank to be isolated prior to the hatch being opened.

The Court found that DIC should have implemented and enforced safe work procedures for cleaning the tank that required:

  • all workers to complete the Job Safety Assessment and a Confined Space Entry Permit;
  • use of a lock-out-tag system before commencing work; and
  • the hatch of the tank remaining closed until the rotating anchor blade had been isolated.

DIC was convicted and ordered to pay a fine of $600,000, following a 25% reduction for entering a guilty plea. DIC was also ordered to pay the prosecutor’s costs of $45,000.

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