Fine for Elgas in explosion case

Gas supplier pleads guilty to breaches after SafeWork investigation

Fine for Elgas in explosion case
An Elgas tanker

Shortcomings are detailed in Elgas’ otherwise comprehensive safety program following a 2015 explosion in NSW that severely injured a truck and driver and resident.

The liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) supplier was investigated by SafeWork NSW and pleaded guilty in the NSW District Court to two WHS Act offences for exposing a worker and other persons to the risk of death or serious injury.

Elgas distributes LPG using bulk tanker trucks to fill LPG cylinders and tanks kept on business and residential premises.

It engaged Samuels Transport Services to provide truck drivers to operate Elgas tankers on an hourly rate.

Elgas was responsible for inspection, maintenance and repair of the equipment attached to the tanker and provided tanker driver induction training and in-truck training and an assessment, which took about three weeks to complete, the District Court heard.

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Its vehicles contain a low-flow hose for cylinders and high-flow hose for tanks, with the latter hose not suitable for use on the former.

In December 2015, one of the truck drivers was filling a cylinder at a Muswellbrook home next door to a public school.

The driver used the high-flow hose because of a mechanical issue with the low-flow system.

The drivers previously noted they were aware the instructions but the manual retraction of the low-flow hose was physically demanding and frustrating and "the use of the high flow hose was a method of getting the job done, albeit contrary to the offender’s written instruction".

On the day of the incident, while a resident of the home was speaking with the driver, both noticed the gas was leaking.

The driver tried to resolve the issue, including to "tension the check lock valve with a Stillson wrench", a process not provided for in the training material, but did not use any of the three emergency shutdown options as instructed to use in an emergency situation.

The gas ignited, with the driver suffering burns to 50 per cent of his body and later blood clots, preventing him from future work, while the resident had burns on up to 75 per cent of her body and later scarring.

The explosion also damaged the house, public school next door, and destroyed a ski boat and motor vehicle.

The District Court heart at the time of the incident "the offender had a comprehensive health and safety program in place", including over 50 policies and procedures "that were relevant to the tanker driver’s work".

However, Elgas pleaded guilty to shortcomings which included:

  • the relevant instructions to the tanker drivers were scattered throughout a number of policy documents and procedures;
  • it was reasonably practicable to compile a SOP [standard operating procedure] that specified the steps to be taken, including the enforcement of an exclusion zone, the risks involved, the consequences of those risks and the steps to be taken in the event of an emergency;
  • it was reasonably practicable to train the tanker drivers on the SOP;
  • the offender failed to ensure that the relevant instructions were being followed through the supervision of the drivers during the LPG deliveries.

Further, once a driver had been assessed as competent to operate a tanker, Elgas did not undertake any review of a driver’s competency to perform.

"The likelihood of the risk occurring was quite high if the specified procedures were not followed," Judge Scotting adds.

"The potential consequences of the risk were, as described by the offender in its own documents, catastrophic.

"The steps that could have been taken to minimise the risk were to provide adequate training and supervision to the tanker drivers."

Elgas was fined $525,000 after a discount for its guilty plea.

The District Court heard the firm had a previously solid safety record, co-operated with investigations, and had since made investments and procedural upgrades to further minimise future risk.

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