Company fined $85,000 over death of worker in drum explosion

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A Welshpool powder coating company has been fined $85,000 over the death of a worker who was killed when a drum he was cutting with an angle grinder exploded in 2010.

Diamond Powder Coaters (WA) Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to provide a safe work environment and, by that failure, causing the death of the worker and was fined in the Perth Magistrates Court this week.

The business is involved in powder coating metal products, a process which begins with preparing the surface of the metal products by wiping them with flammable solvents so the powder coating sticks.

These solvents were purchased in large metals drums which, when empty, were converted to scrap metal bins by cutting the bases off with an angle grinder.

In November 2010, a worker at Diamond Powder Coaters was carrying out cleaning and maintenance duties, including replacing the scrap metal bin.

He used an angle grinder to cut into a metal drum that had previously contained methylated spirits. A spark from the angle grinder ignited the residue or fumes in the drum, causing a large explosion.

The force of the explosion blew part of the drum 20 metres over a fence into a neighbouring property, and the worker suffered fatal head injuries.

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

"Serious incidents involving the cutting of drums are something we are hearing about far too often," Mr McCulloch said.

"A worker died in 2002 when a metal drum exploded when he attempted to cut it with an angle grinder, and another worker died last year at Welshpool when a 4500-litre fuel tank he was cutting with an angle grinder exploded.

"In January this year, 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.

"And earlier this week, a Bunbury man was seriously injured when a fuel tank he was cutting with an oxy torch exploded.

"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.

"The rule of thumb is that if you don't know what has been in the drum or tank, assume it has contained an explosive substance and have it recycled by a specialist cleaning company.

"This is neither an expensive nor inconvenient process, and it could well save someone's life."

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

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 Apr 2013

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