Fuelcraft Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on Friday after pleading guilty to one charge of failing to maintain a safe system of work; one charge of failing to provide information, instruction and training; and one charge of failing to notify WorkSafe of an incident.
The company was fined without conviction and ordered to pay costs of $5,565.
The court heard in May 2019 a third-year apprentice and another worker entered an ISO tank, which had been used to hold diesel, to undertake refurbishment works.
An oxygen acetylene torch was used to cut into the tank’s internal walls and within minutes the air became smoky and dark. Later, as work continued, flames were noticed on the floor.
One worker was able to climb a ladder to escape the tank, but the apprentice fell, hitting his elbow and sliding to the bottom. The other worker was then able to help pull the apprentice out by his arm.
The company did not notify WorkSafe of the incident, however, inspectors visited the workplace the following month after an anonymous tip-off.
WorkSafe found a company policy for entering confined spaces and rescue plans was still under development and that there was inadequate instruction and training for working in confined spaces.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said the dangers of working in confined spaces were well known and there were no excuses for employers who failed to control the risks.
"Poor ventilation, toxic gases and fire are just some of the risks that can be faced when undertaking this kind of work," Dr Beer said.
"Employers and supervisors have to be on high alert when it comes to the safety of their workers in confined spaces and clear and comprehensive procedures and proper training and instruction need to be provided."
To control the risks of working in confined spaces employers should:
- First, consider whether the work can be done another way without entering the confined space. For example, provide outlets and facilities for cleaning to eliminate the need for entry.
- Test the atmosphere to quantify the level of oxygen, atmospheric contaminants and any flammable gas or vapour present in the space. Then you can determine appropriate risk controls.
- Ensure employees do not enter a confined space unless they have been issued with an entry permit for the space, and there is a stand-by person watching the work from outside the space.
- Establish entry and exit procedures for the confined space, and emergency procedures. Ensure these are communicated to your employees.
- Put signs on or near any confined space, and at each entry point, to warn that only people who have been properly trained and have an entry permit may enter.
- Ensure appropriate respiratory protective equipment (air-supplied or air purifying) is used where required.
- Provide employees with enough information, instruction and training to do their work safely and without risks to health. This may include for example, training in hazard identification and risk control methods, entry permit procedures, emergency procedures and use of respiratory protective equipment.