On 11 January 2018 a worker was seriously injured in an explosion at a waste treatment plant at the Townsville golf club. Early investigations indicate this may have involved an explosive gas or substance in the pump room, but the ignition source has not been confirmed. The worker received extensive burns requiring hospital treatment. Investigations are continuing.
Preventing a similar incident
Explosions can have catastrophic consequences, causing serious injuries or death, as well as significant damage to property. A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must prevent the possibility of fire or explosion from the ignition of flammable substances in areas which can have a hazardous atmosphere. This can include sewage treatment and sewage pumping plants.
Control measures to manage these risks include:
- identifying hazardous areas in accordance with AS/NZS 60079.10.1 (hazardous areas are those areas of potential fire or explosion risk due to the presence of flammable gas, vapour or mist in sufficient quantities)
- eliminating hazardous areas where possible, otherwise reducing their size as much as possible
- eliminating ignition sources from hazardous areas anytime an explosive gas atmosphere is present and managing their use anytime a hazardous atmosphere is present (e.g. when a flammable material exceeds 5 per cent of its lower explosive limit)
- ensuring equipment installed within a hazardous area, including plant and electrical equipment, is of a type that has been certified by the manufacturer for use in that particular hazardous area
- ensuring electrical installations in a hazardous area are compliant with the wiring rules and provided with an up-to-date verification dossier
- minimising the generation of flammable vapours, gases and mists and controlling their emissions, for example, using ventilation
- having equipment and processes available to detect leaks of flammable gases or vapours and enable response actions to be taken
- ensuring incompatible materials (e.g. oxidisers) are isolated from hazardous areas
- reducing quantities of flammable and combustible materials, including items that contribute to the fire load but that are not hazardous chemicals themselves (e.g. wooden pallets, oil)
- ensuring equipment used in handling flammable hazardous chemicals is maintained in accordance with the manufacturer's or qualified person's instructions.
In the last five years, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has issued 74 improvement and 34 prohibition notices in relation to an explosion or controlling the risk of an explosion.
In the same period, there have been 199 workers' compensation claims made for incidents involving workers receiving burns from flammable liquids or gas across all industries.
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.
- Managing risks of plant in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.57 MB)
- Confined spaces code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.43 MB)
- WHSQ fact sheet: Fire and explosion risks
- Incident alert - Worker burnt in fuel vapour explosion
- AS/NZS 60079.10.1 - Explosive atmospheres classification of areas