Plumbing company fined after explosion injures two apprentices

Date: Aug 19, 2011

A plumbing company and its director have paid fines amounting to $98,000 after a gas blast in Bondi inflicted serious injuries on two apprentices.

The accident occurred in 2009, when the two young workers – aged 20 and 24 – were instructed to purge a natural gas main line supplying a residential apartment complex above a shopping centre.

A line was not correctly purged in accordance with the Australian Standards regulations for gas work (AS 5601) and the flammable substance was subsequently released into an enclosed plant room.

Ignition sources in the ill-ventilated ares then caused the gas leak to explode, damaging several apartments in the complex and resulting in injuries being sustained by the apprentices.

The NSW Industrial Court found that the plumbing firm and its director had failed to ensure the safety of the employees and that there was a foreseeable risk involved in the task.

TLC Plumbing & Bathrooms was fined $80,000 and its director Michael William Causer a total of $18,000 after entering a guilty plea on the point of failing to ensure the safety of the injured workers.

Justice Trish Kavanagh noted in her judgement that both defendants had provided WorkCover NSW with extensive cooperation in their investigations and that they had voluntarily taken substantial steps to remove the chance of a similar incident occurring again.

The company has also reportedly employed the services of a specialist contractor to handle their gas line purging duties.

John Watson, general manager of the health and safety division at WorkCover NSW, said that companies and workers need to be aware of the relevant control factors and hazards involved in the process of purging a a line of flammable gas.

Watson asserted: "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."

He also reminded businesses involved in handling potentially explosive substances that it was their duty to provide extra guidance and supervision to inexperienced staff members.

"This includes providing safe systems of work and adequate training, supervision and instruction."

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