In July 2019, an evaporative plant operator suffered extensive burns to his upper body after being doused by hot sugar cane mud and liquid released when he was unblocking a tank flange.
WHSQ investigations are continuing.
Preventing a similar incident
Sugar mill operators should ensure risk management is done, and safe systems of work are implemented before work commences. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who operate and manage the business or undertaking, including company officers.
Sugar mill operators must develop a risk register as described in the How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks Code of Practice 2021, assess the risks, implement controls and monitor and review the systems used to control those risks.
Hazards associated with performing repair, maintenance or cleaning work on plant that is operational (including pipeline systems) must be identified. That means identifying possible hazards from pipes or transfer systems which contain substances that may harm workers because of extreme pressure, high or low temperatures, or hazardous chemicals.
Health and safety risks must be managed to eliminate danger. However, if it's not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, then it should be minimised using the hierarchy of controls. This can be achieved by doing one or more of the following:
- substituting the hazard causing the risk with something of lesser risk - for example, reducing the temperature and pressure of the substance before removing flanges for cleaning
- isolating the hazard from workers
- use manual mechanical isolation valves where possible to isolate the section of pipe being maintained or cleaned from the system pressure
- applying isolation and lockout devices such as keyed locks to isolation points (i.e. pipeline isolation valves) – including multi-lock or code-lock, danger tags, out of service tags, or mechanical devices – bars, clamps, chains, or removal of component
- purging or bleeding contents and/or pressure from the isolated section of pipe before removing flanges
- stored energy should not be used to effect isolation (e.g. pneumatic valves which fail safe without a mechanical isolator)
- regular testing of isolation systems and circuits
- implementing engineering controls - for example, by redesigning the pipeline and flange to reduce the risk of blockage.
Any remaining risk must then be minimised by using administrative controls. For example:
- implementing safe systems of work for hot work, lockout points and isolation procedures
- isolation procedure training to ensure competency of workers who are required to comply with those procedures (isolation procedures should be periodically reviewed, particularly when plant is modified or replaced, or new plant is introduced to the system)
- use trained and authorised personnel for isolation procedures for each work area (e.g. an isolation coordinator)
- before commencing work on plant, all isolations and lock outs should be tested by competent persons
- process and authority for over-riding any interlocks already in place.
If a risk remains, it must be minimised so far as reasonably practicable by using personal protective equipment (PPE). For example, liquid and thermal resistant clothing, footwear, face shield, and gloves.
Administrative control measures and PPE rely on human behaviour and supervision, and used on their own, tend to be least effective in minimising risks.
From 2014 to March 2019, there were 279 accepted workers' compensation claims involving hot burn injuries and combination burns, when workers contact hot objects. Approximately one quarter (24%) of all hot burn injuries were serious (involving five or more workdays absent).
From July 2013 to May 2019, OIR was notified of 862 incidents involving burns. Of these, 109 (approximately 13%) were notified to the Electrical Safety Office and 752 (approximately 87%) were notified to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland. Of the 862 incidents, 417 assessments and 59 comprehensive investigations were done.
In the same period, 148 statutory notices were issued addressing the risk of burns across all industries.
Prosecutions and compliance
In 2015, a company was fined $20,000 after a young worker was siphoning unwanted petrol from a fuel tank inside the hull of boat at a repair workshop. He used a 12-volt battery with exposed terminals to power the pump and placed the fuel in exposed pots, pans and plastic containers. Spilt petrol ignited when the worker disconnected the positive and negative terminals. He sustained burns to 10 per cent of his body.
Two years earlier, 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 still contained oil or waste fuel products, causing a catastrophic rupture.
- How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB)
- Managing risks of plant in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.57 MB)
- Sugar industry Code of Practice 2005 (PDF, 0.61 MB)
- Rural plant Code of Practice 2004 (PDF, 0.63 MB)
- Sugar mill safety - A supplement to the Sugar industry Code of Practice 2005 (PDF, 0.91 MB)