Out-of-control hose and unsafe work systems threaten contracts

Wednesday, 25 March, 2009

A company has acknowledged the potential impact of a workplace health and safety failing in the Burnley Tunnel in Melbourne in 2006, telling a magistrate that contracts worth millions of dollars would be jeopardised if it was convicted.

Barry Brothers Specialised Services was charged with having unsafe systems of work after a high-pressure cleaning hose and restraining device failed during routine cleaning, seriously injuring a nearby employee from another company.

The company told the court that a conviction would affect its capacity to tender for public sector work, accounting for half of its $50-million turnover. WorkSafe argued that a conviction was warranted as the use of high-pressure hoses had inherent dangers and that having chosen to conduct such a business, Barry Brothers was responsible for ensuring work was conducted safely.

Barry Brothers was not convicted, but was fined $60,000. Magistrate Felicity Broughton said the firm took outstanding steps to improve safety after the incident, had demonstrated remorse and been of good character since it began in 1958. Had it not pleaded guilty, the company would have been convicted and fined $80,000.

Barry Brothers was contracted to carry out high-pressure, pipe-cleaning services to flush drainage pipes and engaged Total Gas Care to use CCTV to check the drains after which Barry Brothers’ employees would clean them. The CCTV operator was a deemed employee of Barry Brothers.

A fitting connecting a high-pressure water line to a control valve failed as did a device to restrain the high-pressure water line during the water-jetting process. The water line whipped around in an uncontrolled way hitting the CCTV operator’s legs causing serious injuries.

Had Barry Brothers complied with the Australian Standard that requires an exclusion zone when operating high-pressure cleaning equipment and inducted the injured worker, the injury would not have happened.

WorkSafe Executive Director John Merritt said: “Safety is an investment in the future and a fundamental part of doing business. If you don’t, as was said in this case, your business is at risk. Financial penalties are only a small part of the financial impact that injuries and deaths create.

“It doesn’t matter if the people affected by your work are direct employees, contractors, other people working nearby or members of the public. Safety obligations are clear and have been in place, largely unchanged, for decades.

“Making safety improvement after the event is better than nothing, but not much consolation for the person who’s been hurt or their family.”

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