An Australian chemical distribution company based In Sydney’s west (Auschem) has been forced to pay up to almost $100,000 for failing to adequately protect two employees from a worksite explosion and fire. In February 2015 two Auschem employees were decanting all-purpose thinners from a leaking 1000 litre container into another large container. Whilst this process was taking place, a stream of the liquid between the two containers ignited and caused an explosion.
The explosion left one of the men severely injured with burns to his stomach, shoulder, right arm and hand, and the other with cuts to his head that required stitches.
Auschem pleaded guilty to an offence that being a person conducting a business or undertaking that had a health and safety duty under s 19(1) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the Act), it failed to comply with that duty and thereby exposed the employees to a risk of death or serious injury contrary to s 32 of the Act.
Judge Russell in the Sydney District Court held that the volatility of the paint thinners was a well-established risk which could be found in relevant Australian Standards; Auschem’s own safety data sheets; and the SafeWork Australia code of practice for managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace. In allowing the workers to conduct such a dangerous procedure, Auschem failed to take reasonable steps to minimise this risk.
Auschem was fined $80,000, which was reduced to $60,000 to account for the guilty plea. Auschem was also ordered to pay the prosecutor’s cost of $31,000.
This case clearly demonstrates the risks associated with non-compliance with relevant Work-Health Safety standards as well as internal policies and is a timely reminder for businessmen to appraise the tasks carried out by employees every day from a work health and safety perspective.
Read the full case here: SafeWork NSW v Auschem (NSW) Pty Limited 
If you require advice or assistance to ensure you’re abreast of relevant codes and standard that might apply to your workforce, please do not hesitate to contact Nick Stevens, Jane Murray or Angharad Owens-Strauss.