Company fined $50,000 over drum explosion

A Kwinana company has been fined a total of $50,000 over an incident in which an empty drum exploded, injuring an employee, and for failing to report the injury.

Tox Free (Kwinana) Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment, and was fined $45,000 in the Rockingham Magistrates Court on Thursday.  In addition, the company was fined $5000 for failing to report this incident.

Tox Free operates a waste management facility at Kwinana Beach at which industrial waste is treated or transferred after being collected from clients.  Part of that waste is in the form of 205-litre (44-gallon) metal drums, some of which have contained flammable, combustible or explosive substances.

As at March 2010, it was a regular practice at the workplace to decant any free liquid from these drums, remove the lids and fill them with smaller items of scrap metal before crushing them as part of the metal recycling process.

On March 10, 2010, a plant operator at the facility was instructed to have a number of metal drums filled with scrap metal for crushing.  None of the drums had removable lids, so the plant operator was instructed to cut triangular holes in the lids with an angle grinder.

He had safely cut holes in four of the drum lids, but when he cut into the fifth lid, the contents of the drum – and consequently the drum itself – exploded.

The man suffered superficial burns to both forearms, and was diagnosed as being unfit for work for 12 days, when he was cleared to return to work on light duties.  He was later diagnosed with a cartilage tear in his left wrist for which he underwent surgery.

The court found that the employer was aware of the hazard of drum contents exploding in the presence of an ignition source, but had not made employees aware of the hazard.  Similarly, the need to develop a safe work practice for the handling of drums had been identified, but no safe work practice or job safety assessment had been circulated.

Although the employer was aware that the plant operator was unfit for work for more than ten days, the injury was not reported.  WorkSafe only learned of the incident when the plant operator himself reported it in July 2010.

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Lex McCulloch said today it was crucial that everyone recognised that exploding drums were a serious risk.

“The fact that this worker survived the incident was extremely fortunate, as other workers have been killed in similar circumstances,” Mr McCulloch said.

“A worker died in 2002 when a similar metal drum exploded when he attempted to cut it with an angle grinder, and another worker was killed in similar circumstances in 2010.

“Last year, a worker died when a 4500-litre fuel tank he was cutting with an angle grinder exploded.

“And just last month, a Kalgoorlie worker narrowly escaped death when a drum he was cutting with an oxy torch exploded.  The lid struck his forehead and he was seriously injured, but if he had been standing in a slightly different position he probably would not have survived.

“Angle grinders, oxy torches or any other heat-producing equipment should not be used to cut metal drums that have contained flammable or combustible liquids or gases, or when there is any doubt about the previous contents of the drum.

“If you don’t know what has been in the drum or tank, assume it has contained an explosive substance and have it recycled through a specialist cleaning company.

“The employer in this case was aware of the hazard but did not ensure that its employees were, and the worker involved in this incident was lucky to escape with his life.

“Employers also need to remain aware of their obligation to report to WorkSafe any injury listed in the legislation or any other injury that will render an employee unfit for work for more than ten days.”

Further information on empty drums can be obtained by telephoning WorkSafe on 1300 307877 or on the website at www.worksafe.wa.gov.au.


Media contact: Caroline De Vaney 9327 8744 or 0408 927563 (media enquiries only)
caroline.devaney@commerce.wa.gov.au
Follow @WorkSafeWA on Twitter

WorkSafe
Media release
19 Feb 2013

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