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July 21, 2005

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Explosion site “lacked rudimentary controls”

A road worker died as a result of burns received to his body when a mixture of kerosene and gas oil ignited in the bitumen tanker he was cleaning.

West Sussex-based road contractor Colas was fined £75,000 after pleading guilty to breaching s2(1) of HSWA in not ensuring the safety of its employees. It was ordered to pay agreed HSE costs of £22,000.

Sitting on 23 May, Lincoln Crown Court heard that on 20 February 2003, John Gilroy and Phillip Kelly had been cleaning the bitumen spraying bar at the back of a tanker at the company’s depot in Grantham, Lincolnshire. The cleaning process uses a below-ground sump with pipe and filter work in a semi-enclosed environment. The cleaning solvent, a mixture of kerosene and gas oil, is recirculated into the spray bar and out through the sump continuously to clean out bitumen deposits.

“The problem with this activity at the time of the accident was that when solvent is put under pressure through nozzles it creates a flammable mist,” Jon Anslow, the HSE inspector who investigated the incident, explained to SHP. “Even though gas oil in liquid form is not flammable, once it is sprayed it becomes flammable.”

The flammable vapour was ignited – probably as a result of an electrostatic discharge. “There was a lack of rudimentary controls on any sort of ignition,” inspector Anslow said. “There was no prohibition on smoking, nor on hot work, such as welding or cutting,” he said.

Mr Gilroy had been working on a platform on top of the spray bar – in the “worst possible position” – when the atmosphere ignited. Although he tried to escape he received burns to 60 per cent of his body, from which he died two weeks later. Mr Kelly managed to escape with superficial burns to his face.

The company expressed regret over the incident and mitigated that this was its first offence. It said that in hindsight it would have done things differently.

Inspector Anslow commented: “This was a tragic and avoidable incident. Importantly, if a liquid was used rather than a spray, no flammable mist would have been created, and this could have prevented the incident. The spray jets could have been removed but there was no instruction or training on this, or, indeed, in how to do the job itself. This case emphasises the importance for employers to assess and plan work with dangerous substances.”


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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