Portable generator fire injures two workers

By Jeff Salton on March 1st, 2018
  1. Fire, Emergency & Incidents
  2. Fire Safety


It’s not uncommon for workers in high-risk industries, such as construction, or who work in remote areas, to transport portable generators and fuel in order to be able to use power tools, lighting, communications, and the like, when the worksite is not connected to the electricity grid.

In February 2018, two workers received severe burns to their legs, upper body and face when fuel ignited in the back of their truck. A generator in the back of the truck had tipped over in transit, spilling fuel.

When the workers arrived on site and opened the back of the truck, they noticed a strong smell of fuel. They were aboard the truck and had uprighted the generator ready to unload it when the fuel vapours ignited.

WorkCover Queensland’s initial inquiries indicate that the generator was not secured in the back of the truck and may have overturned while the truck was driving through rough terrain at the worksite. Investigations are continuing.

Preventing a similar incident

Fire and explosion can result in catastrophic consequences, causing serious injuries or death of workers and others, as well as significant damage to property. The regulator warns business-owners that they have a duty to prevent the possibility of fire or explosion from an ignition of flammable substances in areas which can have a hazardous atmosphere.

It warns that transporting fuel, or equipment that carries fuel, poses additional risks that the business must manage and control by ensuring that:

  • hazards that may have a risk of fire or explosion have been identified;
  • fuel is stored and transported only in approved containers;
  • fuel containers and plant carrying fuel are adequately restrained to prevent spillage of the fuel;
  • vehicles in which fuels are transported are well ventilated; and
  • suitable spills clean-up equipment and firefighting equipment is available.

WorkCover Queensland warns that potential ignition sources can include hot surfaces (e.g. engines), friction sparks, static electricity discharges, portable electrical equipment and electrical circuits that are not intrinsically safe.

Fire-related injury statistics

Since 2012, in Queensland alone, across all industries there have been a total 169 workers’ compensation claims made for burns caused by flammable liquids or gas. Of these claims, 45 can be directly attributed injuries associated with the ignition/explosion of fuel.

In the same period, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has issued 22 improvement and 3 prohibition notices in relation to storage, transport, and use of fuel in the workplace. There have been 18 incidents where workers received burns from the ignition or explosion of fuel, including one fatal incident in 2015.

Prosecutions and compliance

In 2015, a company was fined $20,000 after a young worker received burns to 10 per cent of his body while siphoning unwanted petrol from the fuel tank of a boat at a repair shop. The worker used a pump with exposed terminals connected to a 12-volt battery to pump the fuel into pots, pans and plastic containers. When he disconnected the pump from the battery, the fuel vapour ignited, burning him.

In 2013, a company was fined $125,000 following the death of a worker who was welding on a sealed oil tank. The worker, who was not a qualified boilermaker, was welding a funnel onto a tank that had not been purged of oil or waste fuel products, causing a catastrophic rupture.

How to assess risks at your workplace

Are there potential fire hazards at your worksite or business? What have you done to reduce the risk of fire?

It is important that implement a risk management system at your workplace to help you identify the risks (not just fire risks) and then manage those risks to either remove them, or where that is not possible, reduce them as far as possible.

The Risk Assessment chapter in the Health & Safety Handbook takes you step-by-step through:

  • what is a risk and who should conduct the risk assessment?
  • a checklist on what to consider when conducting a risk assessment;
  • how to rate risks to determine urgency;
  • a checklist on how to determine the likely consequence of an incident; and
  • implementing, maintaining, monitoring and reviewing risk controls.

The chapter also contains templates and samples for you to use to help complete the task.

What are you waiting for? Subscribe to the Handbook today to take advantage of this expert advice from the health and safety lawyers at Holding Redlich.

You can even take an obligation-free trial of the Health & Safety Handbook just to make sure it’s right for your business.


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