The defendant company held duties under s.19(1) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 providing water, waste management and energy services to the municipal, industrial and commercial sectors. The defendant entity specifically provides refractory, waste management and industrial services. It is a very large multi-national corporation. In Australia, the company has operated for over 40 years with approximately 3,500 employees.
In 2015 the defendant successfully tendered to supply refractory blocks for a large project. Part of the tender required the defendant to manufacture and dry the blocks onsite, a task it had never performed before, as it usually outsourced drying offsite. The defendant was of the view that an old electric kiln onsite could be fixed to complete the drying process.
Between 7 October and 28 October, following multiple issues with the electric kiln, the company was running behind in contract requirements and sought an extension to provide the first batch of blocks. Subsequently, the company instructed the deceased who was the site project manager, to switch the kiln from electric to gas firing. He was provided with instructions on temperature and timing for the new process.
No information was provided confirming how the gas came to be used in the kiln. There were no procedures, policies or safety information regarding the use of the kiln. No professionals were engaged to convert the electric kiln to gas.
On 27 October, 2017 two weeks after he was instructed to convert the kiln to gas, the manager was killed. Investigations confirm the kiln was running on gas when the flame extinguished, gas continued to build up for an unknown amount of time before he attempted to relight it, resulting in an explosion.
Expert evidence found significant issues with the kiln configuration and operation, it was in very poor condition and had been converted using methods inconsistent with Australian Standards.
The defendant pleaded guilty in the Gladstone Magistrates Court on 9 February 2018 to breaching s.32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, having failed to meet its work health and safety duties and was sentenced.
Magistrate Melanie Ho fined the defendant $200,000 and ordered professional and court costs totaling $89.40. The court ordered that no conviction be recorded.
In sentencing, Magistrate Ho noted this was a serious breach of the Act with catastrophic consequences. However, she also took into consideration the company's early guilty plea, its co-operation during the Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation, a good safety record prior to the incident, its significant contributions to the Gladstone community, as well as offering substantial financial assistance to the next of kin. Following the incident, the defendant ceased all drying out refractory activities and decommissioned the use of all kilns.
Considerations for prevention
(commentary under this heading is not part of the court's decision)
When working in the manufacturing industry where there is exposure to risks from a kiln explosion, duty holders should apply a risk management approach to ensure the selection of suitable control measures.
Risk management involves identifying the hazards, evaluating the consequences and likelihood of harm that may result from the hazard, deciding and implementing control measures to prevent or minimise the level of the risk from the hazard and monitoring the effectiveness of the control measures to ensure they remain working correctly. When deciding and implementing control measures associated with the risk of serious injury or death from fatal blast injury, obligation holders should consider:
- Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- AS 1375:2013 Industrial Fuel-fired Appliances
- AS 3814:2015 Industrial & Commercial Gas-fired Appliances
- AS 5601:2013 Gas Installations
- Date of offence
- Gladstone Magistrates Court
- Magistrate Melanie Ho
- s.32 of the duty under s.19(1) Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- Decision date
- Maximum Penalty
- Conviction recorded
- CIS event number