A strong message was sent to employers at the start of this month when we saw a company fined $600,000, by the Melbourne County Court. A conviction was recorded along with the hefty penalty following the avoidable and tragic death by asphyxiation of an apprentice.
A metal fabricating company allowed the new employee to work inside an enclosed space without conducting a proper health and safety risk assessment and ensuring proper solutions. The sad result was suffocation of the inexperienced and newly appointed apprentice.
The court found that the company could have avoided this tragedy with sensible and everyday safety steps, which could have ensured a safe system of work with: –
- qualified welding inspections
- regular monitoring and maintenance of equipment
- storing the welder and wire feed outside the tank when not in use
- ensuring the argon gas is turned off after each use
The court reinforced the concept that companies have a strong obligation and must do their utmost to ensure the safety of employees and others in dangerous situations, and if they don’t, they will be strongly punished. Industry experts have said that the dangers of confined spaces and tanks are well known and that employers have no excuse for not controlling the risks.
This heart-breaking incident highlights the simple measures employers can do such as of adopting guidelines policies and procedures such as: –
- See if the work cannot be done another way without going into the confined space
- Test atmosphere in confined spaces for oxygen levels and for dangerous vapours/gases
- Have proper training and entry permits for confined space work
- Have a standby person always monitoring the worker in the confined space
- Have exit and entry procedures regarding confined spaces that are well known to the employees (in the swms’s document)
- Ensure appropriate respiratory protective equipment is used when required (i.e., air supplied or purifying)
- Provide employees with suitable information, education, and training to be safe and remain healthy while working in confined spaces. This could include training in hazard identification, adoption and use of Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS’s) and other documentation to ensure risk control measures and safe practices, entry permit processes and procedures, emergency procedures, use of respiratory protective equipment and knowledge of first aid.