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Company fined $200,000 after death of employee in kiln explosion

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An environmental services company has been fined $200,000 after pleading guilty in the Gladstone Magistrates Court today to breaching the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 following the death of worker Mark Chapelhow in 2015.

Chapelhow died on 27 October 2015, after an explosion in a gas kiln in Gladstone.

In sentencing, Magistrate Melanie 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, and the safety improvements made, which included stopping the ‘drying out’ process which on this occasion cost a young father his life.

In her summary, Magistrate Ho said Mr Chapelhow was at no fault at all during the failed process, but the 31 year old suffered the most catastrophic of consequences leaving behind a young family.

Following multiple issues with the electric kiln, the company was running behind in contract requirements and had to seek an extension to provide the first batch of blocks. Subsequently, the company instructed Mark Chapelhow, the Gladstone site project manager, to switch over from electric to gas firing. Mr Chapelhow was provided with instructions on temperature and timing for the new process.

However, 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. Management made no further queries regarding the kiln conversion.

Two weeks after Mr Chapelhow was instructed to convert the kiln to gas, he 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 Mr Chapelhow 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 was prosecuted for failing to engage competent persons to design and install a gas system in the kiln, failing to engage competent persons to ensure operation and maintenance of the kiln were safe and failing to provide adequate training to workers operating the kiln by gas.

The defendant pleaded guilty to these failures which breached section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. No conviction was recorded.

Further information

More information on industrial prosecutions is at worksafe.qld.gov.au

Media contact: 0472 33 22 00 or oirmedia@oir.qld.gov.au

Last updated
28 February 2018