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Insult to Injury

Sometimes we think that the regulator wouldn’t fine someone who was injured or sole traders but it’s simply not true and here is a great example. 

In a South Australian prosecution, a sole trader who suffered burns as a result of his mistaken use of propane gas has been fined $33,000.

Angus Roberts, a refrigeration mechanic, was replacing a refrigeration condenser in a food display unit in a café. When Mr Roberts received unexpected pressure readings, he realised he had mistakenly used propane gas to charge the new condenser. While attempting to remove the propane, some escaped in gas and liquid form, which ignited and caused a sudden fire. The fire caused both Mr Roberts and the café owner to suffer burns.

In considering a plea of guilty, the Court heard that Mr Roberts did not have safety protocols in place and had not carried out a proper risk assessment, which would have identified the risks of using the incorrect condenser.

The Court also noted that Mr Roberts had:

– decanted the chemical substances into smaller canisters, which he failed to label or label correctly;
– failed to establish an exclusion zone; and
– failed to remove the potential ignition sources, which in this case was likely the pilot light in the café’s cooker.

Despite Mr Roberts’ extensive 35 years’ experience in the industry, his reliance on a ‘mental’ risk assessment was clearly not adequate. This is a good reminder that no assumptions should be made when undertaking potentially high-risk work. A documented risk assessment will more readily lead to a person determining what potential hazardous outcomes could occur so that appropriate controls can be implemented.

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