Company fined $600,000 following apprentice’s death

Marshall Lethlean Industries Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Melbourne Country Court today after earlier pleading guilty to a single charge of failing to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that the workplace was safe and without risk to health.

The court heard that in October 2018, the apprentice, who had been working at the factory less than two weeks, was asked to undertake work inside a tanker.

The previous day another worker had left a welder inside the tanker along with a wire feeder, which was in a state of disrepair and leaked argon gas overnight, reducing oxygen.

The apprentice died of asphyxiation after entering the confined space of the tanker to conduct the work.

The court found it was reasonably practicable for the company to have provided and maintained a system of work that required a qualified welding inspector to routinely inspect and maintain equipment; require workers to store the welder and wire feeder outside the tanker when not in use; and require workers to turn off the argon gas main at the end of use.

Acting WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Adam Watson said the incident was an absolute tragedy that could have been avoided.

“The dangers of working in confined spaces are well known and there is no excuse for employers who fail to control the risks,” Mr Watson said.

“This incident highlights just how important simple measures such as maintenance and storage procedures are to keeping workers and workplaces safe. Sadly a failure to do so in this case cost a young man his life.”

To control the risks of working in confined spaces employers should:

  • First, consider whether the work can be done another way without entering the confined space. For example, provide outlets and facilities for cleaning to eliminate the need for entry.
  • Test the atmosphere to quantify the level of oxygen, atmospheric contaminants and any flammable gas or vapour present in the space. Then you can determine appropriate risk controls.
  • Ensure employees do not enter a confined space unless they have been issued with an entry permit for the space and there is a stand-by person watching the work from outside the space.
  • Establish entry and exit procedures for the confined space, and emergency procedures. Ensure these are communicated to your employees.
  • Put signs on or near any confined space, and at each entry point, to warn that only people who have been properly trained and have an entry permit may enter.
  • Ensure appropriate respiratory protective equipment (air-supplied or air purifying) is used where required.
  • Provide employees with enough information, instruction and training to do their work safely and without risks to health. This may include for example, training in hazard identification and risk control methods, entry permit procedures, emergency procedures and use of respiratory protective equipment.

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