Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

April 7, 2015

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Failure to follow risk assessment led to employee’s flash fire burns

A Moray-based firm has been fined for safety failings after a worker was seriously injured in a flash fire when he opened the door of a poorly ventilated shed, igniting dense smoke and causing him to suffer burn injuries and trauma.

Ravenhill Limited employee Norman Thomson, then 49, from Rothienorman, Aberdeenshire, was caught in a flashover as he opened the door to a shed which housed a pressure washer after spotting smoke seeping out from the edges. As he pulled the door open, dense smoke inside ignited and he was burned as a flash fire swept over him.

Colleagues extinguished the flames that were on Mr Thomson’s back and helped him to put his hands in cold water. He was in hospital for eight days and unable to return to work for two months. Mr Thomson experienced ongoing trauma and had an additional period off work in 2014.

Peterhead Sheriff Court was told on 30 March that on the day of the incident, 5 January 2011, a pressure washer had been left running unattended in the shed at the company’s premises with the lance and hose removed in an attempt to defrost it.

An investigation by HSE found that Ravenhill Limited did have a written safe working procedure for the pressure washer and had previously had access to the manufacturer’s instructions, both of which emphasised the need for it to be only used in a well-ventilated area. However, the company had failed to identify that the location of the pressure washer had inadequate ventilation and was therefore unsafe.

The shed had no means of extraction and the only ventilation available was to prop the door open or rely on the pressure wash hose to stop it closing.

Inspectors also found that freezing of the lance and hose of the pressure washer was a known problem amongst the workshop staff, however there was no safe system of work for defrosting them in cold weather. As a result unsafe working practices had developed, such as boiling kettles of water and pouring them over the lance and hose, or the method used on the morning of the incident – disconnecting the lance and hose and using the hot water from the pressure washer itself.

Ravenhill Limited of Moycroft, Elgin, Moray, was fined £6,666 after pleading guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

Following the case, HSE principal inspector Niall Miller, said: “This was an entirely avoidable incident. The need for ventilation to prevent such incidences of combustion is well known and was acknowledged and documented by the company itself. Making sure this happened would have been straightforward.

“Sadly, the failure of Ravenhill to follow its own written risk management led to an employee suffering burn injuries and trauma as a result of poor planning.”

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