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November 11, 2008

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Petrol fire leaves man with severe burns

A scrap-yard employee received severe burns after being engulfed in flames when a petrol leak ignited.

Nottingham Magistrates Court heard that on 25 August 2006 a 56-year-old man was using a cutting torch to strip parts from a car, just a few metres away from a colleague, who was filling a different vehicle with fuel using a petrol-retrieving unit.

The man noticed that the petrol-retrieving unit was leaking and had created a large pool of petrol on the surrounding ground. He walked over to his colleague to point out the leak, which he thought was a result of a control lever being placed in the wrong position. As he approached, his colleague began operating a cutting torch, causing sparks to spread across the yard, and igniting the puddle of petrol and the man’s trousers.

The victim received severe burns to 17 per cent of his body, including the back of his legs, hands and arms. As a result, he spent five weeks in hospital and underwent two skin grafts. He has been unable to return to work since the incident.

His employer, Phoenix Autoparts 2000 Ltd, pleaded guilty, on 5 November, to breaching reg. 6 (3) and reg. 5 (1) of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002. The court handed the firm a fine of £2000 and ordered it to pay costs of £2375.

In mitigation, the company showed remorse for the incident and revealed it had already paid the victim compensation through a civil case. It stated that new safety measures had been put in place at the yard since the accident, and it had stopped using cutting torches.

It claimed that the accident occurred because of an oversight of its health and safety procedures. It also admitted it failed to recognise the risks of operating the torches in close proximity to the petrol remover. The firm has since appointed a yard manager, who is responsible for carrying out weekly safety checks on the site.

HSE inspector Francis Bailey told SHP: “This serious accident could have been prevented if cutting operations and any other sources of ignition had been separated from the handling of petrol.

“This could have been achieved by either maintaining a minimum separation distance or managing work to ensure employees carried out these activities at different times.”

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