A Melbourne company was fined $285,000 in the County Court last week over an incident in which a young refrigeration mechanic died when his work van exploded outside his home in Mulgrave in 2011.
Carrum Downs company Cool Dynamics Refrigeration (CDR) pleaded guilty to three breaches of the 2004 OHS Act over the incident, which took place at around 6.30am on 12 December, as the man prepared to leave for work.
The massive explosion damaged neighbouring houses and sent parts of the van onto nearby roofs. The man, 25, died in hospital a few hours later.
CDR was charged with failing to maintain a safe system of work; failing to provide information, instruction, training and supervision; and failing to ensure that people other than employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
On the first charge, it was convicted and fined $100,000, on the second charge it was convicted and fined $55,000, and on the third charge it was convicted and fined $130,000.
The court was told that the company specialised in building, installing and maintaining food refrigeration systems. It provided its refrigeration mechanics with work vans to enable them to complete jobs at customer sites. Equipment in the vans included cylinders of various flammable gases, such as acetylene and methylacetylene-propadiene gas (known as MAP or MAPP).
Due to the volatile nature of acetylene and other gases in the van, specific measures are required for their transport and storage. If cylinders are not contained properly, the potential for movement – and possible leaks – is increased.
The cylinders should be kept in a purpose built vented compartment or cabinet so leaking gas can only escape to the outside of the vehicle. Cylinders are also required to be regularly checked to ensure that valves are firmly closed and outlets capped.
The court was told that the van contained a cabinet to transport gas cylinders but it did not have a vent. The court also heard that employees were not trained in how to store and transport flammable gas cylinders.
Acetylene is a highly flammable gas that, when mixed with air, needs only a very slight ignition source to ignite. In the cabin of a van, these include electrical switches, relays and motors.
The court heard that the most likely source was the door-activated light switch, which would have generated a small electrical arc as the door was opened.
WorkSafe’s Executive Director of Health and Safety, Marnie Williams, said the young man’s tragic death should not have happened.
“There are simple but specific measures that need to be taken when dangerous gases are being transported in small spaces such as work vans,” Ms Williams said.
“There must be a cabinet built specifically for transporting gas cylinders and it must have a vent so any leaking gas is discharged outside the vehicle.
“The cabinet has to be airtight so no leaking gas gets inside the vehicle but, just in case that happens, there should be extra ventilation in the van, such as rotary roof vents.
“It is important that gas cylinders should not be kept in the van for long periods when they are not being used.”
Ms Williams said the company didn’t have appropriately vented cabinets in its vans to safely transport highly flammable gas cylinders, and it failed to train its employees in how the cylinders should be safely stored and transported.
“The breaches that the company has pleaded guilty to are serious and the consequences of such failings are catastrophic,” she said.
“A young man is dead and a family is left heartbroken and grieving over another senseless workplace fatality.”
Public enquiries: Call the WorkSafe Advisory Service on 1800 136 089 between 8:30am and 5pm Monday to Friday, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Advisory Service, PO Box 4306, Melbourne, 3001.