Kalgoorlie engine repair company fined $80,000 over burns to apprentice

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A Kalgoorlie engine repair company has been fined $80,000 and ordered to pay $6000 in costs after an apprentice was seriously burned when a tractor engine ignited at a social event at its premises.

Primepower Engineering Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe workplace and, by that failure, causing serious harm to an employee, and was fined in the Kalgoorlie Magistrates Court today.

On November 11, 2011, Primepower staff finished work early (at 11.00am) to participate in a celebration at Primepower’s premises for Remembrance Day and Director Peter Allan’s birthday.  Staff were being paid for the full day.

In the early afternoon, some of the apprentices decided they would attempt to seize an engine by over-revving the engine until it failed.  This had been attempted previously, and Mr Allan described it as a “challenge to the apprentices”.

The workshop foreman told the apprentices which engine to use, and Mr Allan directed the apprentices to take the engine into the workshop in order to get it running.

After doing some work on the engine, the apprentices took it outside, and eventually got it to start at around 3.00pm.

To facilitate the process, the throttle of the engine was fixed in a fully open position and the apprentices went about trying to seize the engine by introducing different products into the turbo air intake.

The products put into the air intake included brake cleaner, water, compressed air, thinners, methanol and ultimately petrol, and the attempts to seize the engine continued into the evening.

At around 7.00pm, one of the apprentice electricians was standing in front of the running engine and pouring petrol into the turbo air intake when the petrol ignited.  It is believed a spark came off the flywheel and caused the ignition.

The apprentice suffered superficial and full-thickness burns to 61 per cent of his body, resulting in impaired function in his arms, severe scarring and pain, the need to wear pressure garments and ongoing treatment to his damaged elbows.

He has had at least eight rounds of surgery, continues to see a plastic surgeon and would have died from his injuries without medical intervention.

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Lex McCulloch said today Primepower’s management would have been aware of the risks involved and did not take any action to alleviate them.

“It seems that Primepower management actually encouraged the apprentices in their hazardous actions, facilitating the attempts to seize the engine that resulted in terrible injuries to one of the apprentices,” Mr McCulloch said.

“A young apprentice was exposed to a serious hazard when the employees should have been instructed not to pour or spray flammable substances into the air intake of the engine, and this instruction should have been enforced by management.

“As a result, the young apprentice has suffered extremely painful injuries and his life has been permanently changed.

”This case should serve as a warning to all employers of their responsibility to provide and maintain a safe and healthy work environment for all employees, especially younger workers who may require extra guidance.

“It is also a reminder that employers are responsible for the safety of their employees even when they are not actually working but are attending social functions at a workplace.”

Further information on providing a safe workplace can be obtained by telephoning WorkSafe on 1300 307877 or on WorkSafe’s website at www.worksafe.wa.gov.au.

Media contact: Caroline De Vaney 6251 2363 or 0408 927563 (media enquiries only)


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Media release
09 Dec 2015

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