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January 16, 2013

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Mechanic burned in oil-drum explosion

A mechanic suffered serious burns when an empty oil drum exploded while he was carrying out hot work.

The 26-year-old was working at Windermere Auto Centre’s garage in Kendal when the incident took place on 27 July 2011. He was using an oxy-propane torch to remove the lid of an empty oil drum so it could be used to store scrap metal.

While he was using the torch, the remaining oil inside the drum set alight, causing an explosion. The mechanic suffered burns to his hands and arms and was kept in hospital for five days. He was unable to return to work for two weeks owing to his injuries.

The HSE visited the site on the same day as the incident and found that the firm had failed to identify the risk that the torch could act as an ignition source for the vapour from the remaining oil in the drum.

The parent company of Windermere Auto Centre, Kankku Ltd, was issued a Prohibition Notice, which ordered it to stop carrying out hot work until the risks were properly assessed.

HSE inspector Anthony Banks told SHP that the firm should have properly considered if it needed to use the drums for storage, which would have avoided the need to carry out the hot work. He said: “There were several ways the top could have been cut off the oil drum safely, but the company should have considered whether it needed to do this in the first place.

“It would have been much more sensible to use another container to store scrap metal at the garage, rather than using a drum which still had small amounts of a flammable substance inside.

“Sadly, these types of incidents are all too common, and it’s only luck that the mechanic wasn’t more seriously injured, or even killed in the explosion.”

Kankku Ltd appeared at Kendal Magistrates’ Court on 15 January and pleaded guilty to breaching reg.6(1) of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002, for failing to eliminate the risk of an explosion. It was fined £6000 and ordered to pay £4746 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it cooperated with the investigation and has subsequently appointed a heath and safety consultant. It continues to use the drums for storage but removes the lids by a cold-work procedure, which involves the use of hydraulic shears. The company also said it had no previous convictions.

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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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