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May 14, 2012

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Director fined for propane tank explosion

A worker suffered serious burns while carrying out maintenance work at the home of one of his employer’s directors.

The 29-year-old man, who doesn’t want to be named, worked as a site operative for pre-cast concrete floor supplier Suffix Pre-cast Ltd. On 2 September 2011, he was asked by one of the company’s directors, Jamie Thomas Jewell, to carry out maintenance work at Jewell’s house in Totton, Hampshire.

One of the tasks he was given was to cut the top off a disused propane tank so it could be converted into a wood burner. He was told the tank was empty, as holes had been drilled into the top of the unit so the gas could leak out, but some still remained at the bottom.

The worker was given no instruction on how to cut the tank and hadn’t carried out any similar work previously. As he used a petrol-driven disc cutter to saw into the tank, the resulting sparks ignited the remaining gas in the unit. Flames shot out of the holes in the tank and the worker suffered serious burns to his left arm, abdomen, and thorax. He was unable to return to work for three weeks.

HSE inspector Ray Kelly told SHP that Jewell had failed to carry out a risk assessment before the work started and did not warn the worker about the hazards involved. He went on to explain that the incident could have been avoided if the tank had been purged to ensure the gas was made safe.

“This incident should never have happened and it was only a matter of good fortune that the worker was not killed,” said inspector Kelly. “It was irresponsible of the defendant to take an employee to his house. He was out of his depth with this work, having never before tried to do anything like it. Neither the defendant nor the employee had any prior experience of this type of work and, as such, there was the potential for further and more widespread damage to life and property.

“It’s important to stress that there was no wrongdoing on the part of the company. This was an irresponsible act of a director, who should have known better.”

Jewell appeared at West Hampshire Magistrates’ Court on 9 May and pleaded guilty to s37 of the HSWA 1974. He was fined £2000 and ordered to pay £2451 in costs.

In mitigation, Jewell said he had no previous convictions and had fully cooperated with the investigation. He explained that he is close friends with the injured man and deeply regrets the injuries he suffered.

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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