A gas cylinder supplier has been fined a total of $550,000 after a worker was left permanently disabled in a ute explosion in December 2017.
Supagas Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Melbourne County Court today after being found guilty of two charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act following a three-week jury trial.
The company was fined, without conviction, $275,000 for failing to provide a safe system of work and $275,000 for failing to ensure persons other than employees were not exposed to health and safety risks arising from their conduct.
Supagas was found not guilty on a third charge of failing to provide information, instruction or training to enable employees to work safely.
The court heard the worker was driving along Mountain Highway in Bayswater when two gas cylinders containing acetylene and oxygen that he had just picked up from a nearby Supagas store exploded.
Nearby cars, homes and overhead power lines were damaged by the explosion, which sent debris flying up to 200 metres away.
The worker now requires the use of a wheelchair and has memory loss as a result of multiple traumatic, physical and mental injuries.
The court heard Supagas’s breaches had put the safety of seven named individuals and others in the vicinity at the time of the explosion at risk, along with workers at the store.
An investigation found the likely cause of the explosion was the ignition of an acetylene vapour and air mixture in the ute’s fully enclosed and sealed rear compartment, where the unsecured cylinders had been placed on their side rather than in an upright position.
The court heard it was reasonably practicable for Supagas to have systems in place to ensure that customers do not transport gas cylinders from its premises unless they are safely secured in an upright position in a vehicle that is adequately ventilated.
New Sector Engineering Pty Ltd, the company that employed the worker and owned the ute, was separately convicted and fined $300,000 after pleading guilty to two charges in April 2020.
WorkSafe Executive Director Health and Safety Narelle Beer said the incident should serve as a warning to duty holders using gas cylinders as part of their business.
“Whether you’re a supplier, contractor or tradie, it’s critical to have proper procedures in place for the safe handling and transporting of highly flammable chemicals like acetylene gas,” Dr Beer said.
“The consequences of not putting health and safety first when it comes to dangerous goods can be catastrophic, not only for you and your workers but also for members of the public.”
To manage risks when transporting gas cylinders, duty holders should ensure:
- Cylinders are transported in vehicles with cargo areas open to the air.
- Where a closed vehicle must be used, that it is fitted with a separate gas storage cabinet that is vapour tight from the rest of the vehicle and designed to ensure any leaking gas is vented outside the vehicle.
- Cylinders are secured and stored in an upright position that prevents them tipping or falling over and being struck by other objects (eg loose tools and materials).
Suppliers of gas cylinders being transported should ensure:
- Workers are provided appropriate training on the proper stowage and restraint of cylinders in vehicles.
- Vehicles are checked for their suitability to transport cylinders.
- If a vehicle is deemed unsuitable, provision of cylinders is refused, and an offer is made to deliver the cylinders instead.
- Customers are provided with information about the safe transport of dangerous goods.
Source: WorkSafe Vic.