Simple mistake with big consequences – why this company had to shut its doors

By Andrew Hobbs on November 10th, 2017
  1. Fire, Emergency & Incidents
  2. Fire Safety


THOROUGH hazard identification processes for any potentially dangerous work task are vital for any company, but particularly those who work in hazardous and high-risk environments.

Recoat Smash Repairs lost its major client and is now set to close following an explosion at its Wodonga factory last year, triggered by a company manager using a vacuum cleaner to remove flammable liquid in a confined space.

The manager was using the flammable solvent to wipe down the interior of a large, open-topped electrical transformer in order to prepare it for painting when he used the vacuum to remove excess liquid.

The vacuum triggered an explosion, which gave the man deep tissue burns to both hands and superficial burns to both his face and neck.

The Border Mail reported that the company lost a major contract following the incident, with lawyers for the company telling the Wodonga Magistrates Court that the family-owned business would close some time next month.

Recoat pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to provide a safe system of work by failing to identify the risk of fire or explosion associated with the introduction of a potential ignition source into a confined space.

It was also ordered to pay $3,430 costs.

Planning ahead

WorkSafe Victoria Executive Director of Health and Safety Marnie Williams said that working with flammable chemicals in a confined space carried a significant level of risk.

“Working with flammable chemicals is a high-risk task and working in confined spaces also has its own dangers,” Ms Williams said. “When the two tasks are combined, the consequences can be potentially catastrophic unless considerable care is taken.”

“Employers have a clear duty to ensure that work which involves entering confined spaces is identified and that appropriate safety controls are put in place,” she said.

When identifying hazards in your workplace,  a careful workplace inspection is essential, including looking at how your workers are carrying out their tasks and whether there may be any issues with existing safe operating procedures.

Chapter H1 Hazard Identification of the Health & Safety Handbook suggests that you consult with workers about their health and safety concerns, and regularly review any relevant safety information about the tools and other devices being used, including chemicals.

During workplace inspections, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How is work actually being performed?
  • Is equipment being used properly?
  • Are correct procedures being followed?
  • Are workers wearing correct personal protective equipment (PPE)?
  • Are any hazardous chemicals or substances present?
  • Are all necessary control measures in place?
  • Are there any other factors likely to cause a risk?

The chapter also recommends keeping a thorough safety data sheet (SDS) for all chemicals used by the company, and conducting a risk assessment around the use of that substance. Remember, you must have SDSs for all classified hazardous chemicals and dangerous goods.

Additional information on how to reduce the risks of working in confined spaces and dangerous goods, as well as a template inspection action sheet is available in the Health & Safety Handbook.

Order your copy today to help simplify the way you do business.


Related Articles: