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Company and Director fined for safety breaches that led to explosion

Posted On August 31, 2011

A plumbing company and its director were fined a total of $98,000 in the NSW Industrial Court this week after two apprentices were seriously injured in an explosion at a Bondi Junction apartment block in 2009.
The prosecution follows an incident in March 2009 where two apprentice plumbers aged 20 and 24, received serious burns while purging the main (natural gas) supply line to a residential tower above Eastgate Shopping Complex.

WorkCover’s investigation found that the explosion was the result of a gas pipe-line not being fully purged in accordance with the Australian Standard for this type of work.

Flammable gases from the supply line ignited when they were released into the enclosed plant room in the eastern tower that contained multiple ignition sources.

Surrounding apartments in the complex also sustained extensive damage as a result of the incident.

The Court heard there was a foreseeable risk involved with this incident and TLC Plumbing & Bathrooms Pty Ltd was fined $80,000 and its director Michael William Causer fined $18,000 after pleading guilty to failing to ensure the safety of their workers.
                
In handing down judgement, Justice Kavanagh noted that both defendants had co-operated with the WorkCover investigation and have since taken steps to reduce the risk of a similar incident occuring in the future, including engaging a specialist contractor to undertake similar purging work.

General Manager of WorkCover’s Work Health and Safety Division, John Watson said this outcome served as an important reminder of the potentially catastrophic results of the uncontrolled release of flammable gas within a building.

“It is important that there are adequate systems in place to purge large volume gas installations and any associated appliances to a safe location on the outside of the building and away from potential ignition sources,” Mr Watson said.

“Relevant control factors also need to be taken into account including the volume of the pipe work, the type of gas and ensuring ignition sources are clear.

All purging must be done in line with the Australian Standard (AS 5601) and carried out in accordance with the gas network’s carrier’s procedures.

“All employers have obligations to ensure their workers are safe. Young workers and apprentices may require closer supervision and guidance.

“This includes providing safe systems of work and adequate training, supervision and instruction,” he said.

Further information regarding gas installations can be found in Australian Standard AS 5601 – 2004: Gas installations.

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