How a proper risk assessment can save you thousands

By Michael Selinger on April 27th, 2018
  1. Risk Management
  2. Risk Assessment

 

A recent decision from the Melbourne County Court (Victorian WorkCover Authority v Industrial Lining Pty Ltd2018) has highlighted the importance of all businesses undertaking proper risk assessments of work in confined spaces.

Facts

Industrial Lining Pty Limited (the Company) installs protective linings made from materials including plastics, ceramic and rubber.

On 11 June 2016, while replacing rubber linings inside a hopper, three people were exposed to a harmful level of contaminate within the confined space. Approximately 30 to 40 minutes after applying an adhesive – a hazardous substance – to the inner wall of the hopper, the director of the Company and an employee entered the hopper.

The director was rendered unconscious by the adhesive’s fumes. A short time later, an employee, in an attempt to rescue the director, was also rendered unconscious. A second employee partially entered the hopper attempting to rescue them both but felt dizzy and retreated. Paramedics, the CFA and SES attended the scene and assisted the two employees down from the hopper.

Thankfully, the two employees were taken to hospital and were later discharged without permanent impairment.

Judgment

The prosecution was initially heard in the Magistrate’s Court where it was found that there was a risk of death to employees as a result of the exposure to a harmful level of contaminant in the confined space.

Despite the hopper being enclosed, the Company failed to identify that the hopper was a confined space and failed to identify the risk of being exposed to contaminants in the confined space in a job safety analysis. The Court also heard that there were significant defects in the training provided to the employees.

The employee rendered unconscious had only received on-the-job training while the second employee had not been subject to any information, instruction or training relating to the work that was being undertaken.

The Magistrate imposed a fine of $30,000 and ordered the Company to pay costs of $4,096. The Director of Public Prosecutions commenced an appeal to the County Court against this sentence on the basis that it felt it was manifestly inadequate.

On appeal in the Melbourne County Court, the judge sentenced the Company to an increased fine in the amount of $55,000. Costs were also ordered to be paid for the appeal.

Lessons for you

As with any activity that involves the use of hazardous substances, it is critical that the physical area in which the substance is going to be used is assessed to determine whether it materially increases the risk of harm.

It is well known that hazardous fumes within a confined space pose a significant risk to health and safety. In this case, potentially it could have led to the deaths of two people.

All businesses should review the processes that they have in place for determining whether they have identified the confined spaces in their workplace. Further, once they have been identified, it is important that only trained and properly instructed personnel undertake work in those environments and a permit to work system be implemented.

Where to find help

Attempting to conduct a risk assessment or hazard identification from scratch is a tough ask for business-owners and managers not skilled in these areas. But when you have a copy of the Health & Safety Handbook, you can access chapters such as:

  • H1 Hazard Identification
  • R3 Risk Assessment
  • S1 Safe Operating Procedures
  • T2 Training and Induction
  • W5 Working Alone

All these chapters are written in plain English by the Health & Safety lawyers at Holding Redlich so you know you can trust their advice.

Even if your business is not involved in working in confined spaces, are you aware of all the risks you workers face and, importantly, how to remove or at least reduce those risks?

Don’t delay, order your copy of the Health & Safety Handbook today.

 





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