In May 2018, two workers were seriously injured in a fire, possibly caused by an explosion, while combining chemicals in a four bay metal garage. Both required hospital treatment for serious burns. Investigations are continuing.
Preventing a similar incident
Flammable liquids, including petrol, ethanol and solvents, give off hazardous vapours which can ignite if not properly managed. Transferring fuel from one container to another can create static electricity which can also cause vapours to ignite.
The risk of these vapours igniting is further increased when working in a confined area, creating a hazardous environment of vapours that may ignite without warning.
These risks must be managed by ensuring that:
- the work area is well ventilated
- voids or compartments that may harbour a flammable atmosphere are identified
- the work area is monitored for flammable gasses or vapours
- the work area or vessel has been purged of residual fuels or oil
- all ignition sources have been removed, isolated or controlled
- any hot work is undertaken by qualified people using a hot work permit system
- if there is a risk of fire, an observer is in place with appropriate firefighting equipment.
Potential ignition sources may include:
- naked flames, smoking or pilot lights
- portable electrical equipment – tools, radios, fans
- fixed electrical systems – mains power, batteries, lighting
- hot work – welding, grinding, cutting
- hot surfaces – exhaust pipes, flues, ducting
- static electricity
- sparks generated by mechanical means – hammers, hand tools.
The blast wave, fireball and flying debris produced by such an explosion can cause significant destruction, injury or death.
Since 2012, there have been 169 accepted workers' compensation claims for incidents involving flammable liquids or gas. Of these, 14 involved fuel igniting or exploding.
In the same period, we have issued 23 improvement notices and 3 prohibition notices for issues associated with flammable liquids or gas.
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 and received a 24 month good behaviour bond and training orders 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.
- Managing risks of plant in the workplace Code of Practice 2013 (PDF, 1.04 MB)
- Confined spaces Code of Practice 2021 (PDF, 1.45 MB)
- Fact Sheet: Fire and explosion risks
- Fact Sheet: Emergency planning
- Incident Alert: Worker killed by explosion while welding
- Incident Alert: Generator fuel explosion in back of truck
- Incident Alert: Worker burnt in fuel vapour explosion
- Incident Alert: Worker burned in pump room explosion