Road tanker manufacturer fined $600,000 over suffocation death

Tuesday, 28 June, 2022

Road tanker manufacturer fined $600,000 over suffocation death

Road tanker manufacturer Marshall Lethlean Pty Ltd has been convicted and fined $600,000, following the asphyxiation death of an apprentice while working inside a tanker at its Cranbourne West factory in 2018. The company was sentenced after pleading guilty to a single charge of failing to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that the workplace was safe and without risk to health.

In October 2018, the apprentice, who had been working at the factory less than two weeks, was asked to undertake work inside a tanker. The previous day another worker had left a welder inside the tanker along with a wire feeder, which was in a state of disrepair and leaked argon gas overnight, reducing oxygen. The apprentice died of asphyxiation after entering the confined space of the tanker to conduct the work.

The court found that it was reasonably practicable for the company to have provided and maintained a system of work that required a qualified welding inspector to routinely inspect and maintain equipment; require workers to store the welder and wire feeder outside the tanker when not in use; and require workers to turn off the argon gas at the main at the end of use. Acting Executive Director of WorkSafe Victoria Adam Watson said the incident was a tragedy that could have been avoided.

“The dangers of working in confined spaces are well known and there is no excuse for employers who fail to control the risks. This incident highlights just how important simple measures such as maintenance and storage procedures are to keeping workers and workplaces safe. Sadly a failure to do so in this case cost a young man his life,” said Watson.

To control the risks of working in confined spaces, WorkSafe advises employers to consider whether the work can be done another way without entering the confined space (for example, by providing outlets and facilities for cleaning to eliminate the need for entry). Employers are also urged to test the atmosphere to quantify the level of oxygen, atmospheric contaminants and any flammable gas or vapour present in the space, to determine appropriate risk controls.

Employers should also ensure that employees do not enter a confined space unless they have been issued with an entry permit for the space and there is a stand-by person watching the work from outside the space. Emergency and entry and exit procedures should also be established for the confined space, with employers to ensure that they are communicated to their employees. WorkSafe also recommends placing signs on or near any confined space and at each entry point, to warn that only people who have been properly trained and have an entry permit may enter. Employers are encouraged to provide appropriate respiratory protective equipment (air-supplied or air-purifying) when required.

Employees must also receive enough information, instruction and training to do their work safely and without risks to health. This may include training in hazard identification and risk control methods, entry permit procedures, emergency procedures and the use of respiratory protective equipment.

Image credit: © Barraud/KOTO

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