Scrap metal recycling business and Director fined $52,500

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A Kalgoorlie recycling business and its Director have been fined a total of $52,500 after a worker was injured at their yard in 2013.

Swiftstar Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to provide a safe workplace and was fined $35,000 in the Kalgoorlie Magistrates Court last week.  Director John Bronislaw Roman pleaded guilty as a Director to failing to provide a safe workplace and was fined $17,500.

Swiftstar owned several businesses, one being a scrap metal recycling business in Cunningham Road, West Kalgoorlie that employed casual staff and five permanent staff members.

The business used second-hand 44 gallon drums to carry smaller pieces of scrap metal by truck from Kalgoorlie to Perth, and these drums had sometimes previously contained flammable chemicals.

Swiftstar had a “squeaky clean” policy that required that the drums have no residual chemicals in them, but the employer could only trust his workers to ensure this was the case.

Two types of drums were used – one type that had a removable lid, and another that was sealed and usually had two removable bungs in the top.

The company had a process for removing lids from drums that involved removing the bungs and putting holes in the bottom or side of the drum, allowing the drum to vent for a period of time, sniffing the drum to detect vapours then using an oxy torch to cut off the lid of the drum.

In January 2013, one of the permanent employees at the yard was asked to get some drums for scrap metal.  He was aware of the procedure involved in removing the lids, and had been performing the procedure for the previous two years.

The drum from which he was removing the lid was marked with flammable liquids stickers and labelled as methylated spirits.

When he put the lit oxy torch to the lid, the drum exploded, knocking him to the ground.  The lid of the drum landed across the road 50 to 60 metres away.

He received two fractures to the left side of his skull, bleeding on the left side of his brain and a ruptured left ear membrane.

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Lex McCulloch said today the case should serve as a warning to employers that cutting lids from drums with an oxy torch is a hazard that needs to be controlled by strict procedures.

“Cutting sealed drums with an oxy torch is a hazard that is common knowledge in the scrap metal industry,” Mr McCulloch said.

“Workers have been killed in WA while performing this task, and this worker was fortunate not to have become another workplace fatality statistic.

“In this workplace, employees were cutting the lids off between two and 12 drums per week and the employer could have taken many practical measures to alleviate the risks to workers.

“These could have included using drums with removable lids, filling the drums with water before using the oxy torch, using a chisel and hammer or an air chisel instead of an oxy torch or testing the drums to ensure no flammable substances remained before cutting.

“In fact, subsequent to this incident, the employer purchased 64 drums with removable lids to use for smaller pieces of scrap metal.  The drums cost $3.30 each, a small price to pay for the removal of the risk to employees.”

Further information on cutting 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 6251 2363 or 0408 927563 (media enquiries only)

caroline.devaney@commerce.wa.gov.au

Follow @WorkSafeWA on Twitter

 

WorkSafe
Media release
11 Dec 2015

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