In February 2018, two workers received severe burns to their legs, upper body and face when fuel ignited in the back of a truck. A generator in the back of the truck had tipped over while being transported, spilling fuel. On arrival the workers opened the back of the truck and noticed a strong smell of fuel. They were in the truck and had uprighted the generator ready to unload it when the fuel vapours ignited.
Initial inquiries indicate that the generator was not secured in the back of the truck and may have overturned while the truck was traversing rough terrain at the worksite. Investigations are continuing.
Preventing a similar incident
Fire and explosion can result in catastrophic consequences, causing serious injuries or death of workers and others, as well as significant damage to property. PCBUs must prevent the possibility of fire or explosion from an ignition of flammable substances in areas which can have a hazardous atmosphere.
Transporting fuel, or equipment that carries fuel, poses additional risks that the PCBU must manage and control by ensuring that:
- hazards that may have a risk of fire or explosion have been identified
- fuel is stored and transported only in approved containers
- fuel containers and plant carrying fuel are adequately restrained to prevent spillage of the fuel
- suitable spills clean-up equipment and firefighting equipment is available.
Transporting fuel or other hazardous chemicals in the back of a truck or other vehicle may have increased risks of fire or explosion of vapours. This is due to poor ventilation and the inability to disperse heavier-than-air flammable vapours in the presence of potential ignition sources. Potential ignition sources can include hot surfaces (e.g. engines), friction sparks, static electricity discharges, portable electrical equipment and electrical circuits that are not intrinsically safe.
PCBUs should assess whether ventilation is adequate for any flammable or combustible liquids that are transported in their vehicles and develop suitable procedures to ensure that vapours have dissipated prior to workers entering the vehicle or truck body. Any spills must be cleaned up immediately. Any ignition source must also be controlled to eliminate the risk of fire or explosion. Workers should be adequately trained and supervised:
- in the nature of the risks associated with the flammable or combustible liquid, or any other hazardous chemicals
- in the storage, transportation, use and handling of flammable or combustible liquids
- in emergency procedures including suitable fire and rescue procedures.
Since 2012, there have been a total 169 workers' compensation claims made for burns caused by flammable liquids or gas across all industries. Of these claims, 45 can be directly attributed injuries associated with the ignition/explosion of fuel.
In the same period, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has issued 22 improvement and 3 prohibition notices in relation to storage, transport, and use of fuel in the workplace. There have been 18 incidents where workers received burns from the ignition or explosion of fuel, including one fatal incident in 2015.
Prosecutions and compliance
In 2015 a company was fined $20,000 after a young worker received burns to 10 per cent of his body while siphoning unwanted petrol from the fuel tank of a boat at a repair shop. The worker used a pump with exposed terminals connected to a 12v battery to pump the fuel into pots, pans and plastic containers. When he disconnected the pump from the battery, the fuel vapour ignited, burning him.
In 2013 a company was fined $125,000 following the death of a worker who was welding on a sealed oil tank. The worker, who was not a qualified boilermaker, was welding a funnel onto the tank which had not been purged of oil or waste fuel products, causing a catastrophic rupture.