Mopping up the damage from a deadly clean-up
SafeWork NSW v DIC Australia Pty Limited (2021)
DIC Australia Pty Ltd (DIC) operates an ink manufacturing plant. At its Auburn premises, DIC manufactures black ink, which involves the use of a holding tank.
The ink holding tank was fitted with an agitator assembly, which included the U-shaped metal anchor blade used to stir the ink product to prevent carbon residue from sinking to the bottom. When residue gradually accumulated into the holding tank, efforts were made to wash out the residue. The removal of the residue involved working in a confined space.
On 7 December 2017, a worker was contracted to clean the holding ink tank. While the worker was working inside the tank, the agitator blade activated, crushing his legs. The worker suffered a cardiac arrest and died at the scene. Two other workers who entered the tank to assist suffered leg injuries.
The Court found that DIC failed to provide workers with any information on the electrical configuration of the ink holding tank, including the fact that it did not have an external isolator switch or that an electrician was needed to isolate the plant. There was also no requirement or stipulation on any of the documents noting that the tank was to be isolated prior to the hatch being opened.
The Court found that DIC should have enforced safe work procedures for cleaning the tank that required all workers to:
- complete the job safety assessment and a confined space entry permit properly;
- use a lockout-tagout system;
- obtain approval from the contracting entity before commencing work; and
- not open the hatch of the tank 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. The company was also ordered to pay the prosecutor’s costs in the amount of $45,000.
You should ensure you maintain and keep your contractor procedures up to date, including contractor inductions, and requirements to complete a job safety assessment or safe work method statements. It is critical that safety systems are enforced with all contractors and subcontractors.
Please note: Case law is reported as correct and current at time of publishing. Be aware that cases in lower courts may be appealed and decisions subsequently overturned.
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