Hefty fine for lessons not learned

Wednesday, 23 April, 2008

An air-conditioning company was fined $120,000 after a vehicle containing bottles of flammable gas exploded in suburban Sydney.

The explosion, on 17 August 2005 in Barton Street, Monterey, damaged homes, shattered car windscreens and showered glass and debris across roofs and backyards.

A 64-year-old air-conditioning technician, rendered temporarily unconscious in the blast, escaped before the service vehicle was engulfed in flames.

The man suffered from glass embedded in his skull, lacerations to his hands and ears (requiring 20 stitches), concussion, continuing tinnitus and is still receiving treatment for psychological injury and post traumatic stress.

The man’s employer, Victorian-based Carrier Air Conditioning, was convicted of failing to ensure the health and safety of its workers under the OHS Act 2000.

A WorkCover NSW investigation concluded that the explosion was most likely caused by gas leaking from an acetylene cylinder that was ignited by a spark from a faulty electrical circuit.

The investigation also revealed that, at the time of the incident, Carrier Air Conditioning did not have a company policy on quantities of compressed gases carried in service vehicles, or in relation to checking compressed gas cylinders for leaks.

There were no policies in place as to how the gases were stored in the service vehicles or in relation to ventilation of the service vehicles.

The company failed to comply with WorkCover Improvement Notices directing it to provide adequate ventilation in storage vehicles carrying flammable material until September 2006.

Referring to these delays, Justice J Marks commented: “I am not satisfied on the basis of the evidence that this defendant committed itself in a timely and appropriate fashion to removing the risk which was exposed by this incident and in complying with the WorkCover requirements.

“For the same reason, I cannot be persuaded that there was total cooperation by the defendant with the WorkCover Authority in and about its investigation. There can be no suggestion that what was required by WorkCover was unreasonable or inappropriate.”

The company was ordered to pay a moiety of the fine and costs to WorkCover NSW.

“This case highlights the serious risks created when flammable gases are stored in inadequately ventilated vehicles and the vital importance of complying with the regulations,” said WorkCover CEO, Jon Blackwell.

“An employee is suffering longlasting effects from the injuries he received in the explosion, which could also have had a far more serious impact on passers-by and local residents.”


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