In January 2018, a worker received second degree burns while trying to pour fuel into the vent pipe of a furnace used for drying woodchips. The worker was attempting to light the furnace and spilled the fuel which then ignited resulting in burns to his hands, arms and legs. Investigations are continuing.
Preventing a similar incident
Fire and explosions can have catastrophic consequences, causing serious injuries or death, as well as significant damage to property. PCBUs must prevent the possibility of fire or explosion from an ignition of flammable substances in areas which can have a hazardous atmosphere. They must ensure:
- all flammable or combustible liquids, and their flammability characteristics, are identified
- ignition sources are eliminated or controlled
- any fuel, flammable or combustible liquid is stored and carried in an approved container
- flammable or combustible liquids are appropriately labelled
- suitable firefighting equipment is installed, tested and maintained.
If manually starting a furnace, or using an accelerant for other items of equipment, it is critical that workers follow the manufacturer’s procedures or procedures developed by a competent person. The PCBU must also ensure that workers are adequately trained and supervised:
- in the nature of the risks associated with the flammable or combustible liquid
- in the storage, use and handling of flammable or combustible liquids
- in emergency procedures including suitable fire and rescue procedures.
Since 2012, there have been a 169 workers’ compensation claims made for burns caused by flammable liquids or gas. Of these claims, 45 can be directly attributed to the ignition or explosion of fuel.
In the same period, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has issued 22 improvement and three prohibition notices in relation to storage, transport and use of fuel in the workplace. There have been 13 incidents involving furnaces.
Prosecutions and compliance
In February 2018, a company was fined $200,000 following the death of a worker from a furnace explosion in 2015. The worker was given instructions to modify the furnace from electric heating to gas fired. Two weeks later the furnace exploded killing the worker while he was trying to reignite the furnace. The furnace was in poor condition and had not been converted using methods consistent with Australian Standards. The company pleaded guilty to failing to engage a competent person to design and convert the furnace, failing to engage competent people to operate and maintain the furnace, and failing to provide adequate training to workers operating the furnace.
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 12v 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 the tank which had not been purged of oil or waste fuel products, causing a catastrophic rupture.