Unique company response to confined space penalty

In 2007, according to the ABC news site,

“42-year-old Geoffrey Johnson [died after he] inhaled toxic fumes from paint stripper when he was cleaning the inside of a large chemical tank”.

On 16 December 2009, his employer, Depot Vic P/L, was fined half a million dollars over this breach of the OHS legislation.

Initial reports say that the company is no longer in business but it

“told the court is had put aside money to pay the fine.”

Wow.  What happened to phoenix companies?  – the business scourge that closes down to avoid paying outstanding debts and, often the costs associated with a worker’s death, and then starts up again under a different structure.

That a company will pay a fine for an OHS breach years after ceasing business seems a remarkable and admirable act.

Hyde Park Tank Depot’s assets were purchased by the Scott Corporation several months after Mr Johnson’s death, according to information SafetyAtWorkBlog obtained from Scott Corporation.  The current business and website listing was not operating at the time of Mr Johnson’s death.

WorkSafe Victoria provided background to Mr Johnson’s death in a prosecution summary in April 2009.  The full summary gives a clear indication why the fine was so high.

“Depot Vic Pty Limited (formerly known as Hyde Park Tank Depot Pty Ltd) undertakes cleaning, repair and maintenance of ISO containers for the chemical industry.  ISO containers are confined spaces, being portable tanks used to transport chemicals.  The tanks are usually cleaned purely by hydro-blasting, but on occasion the tanks were required to be cleaned more thoroughly.

The system of work was such that when this situation occurred, the cleaning of the tank required 2 stages. The first stage involved the application of a cleaning agent, usually a product known as ‘Selleys Renovators Choice’ stripper (which is not a dangerous good).

The second stage then involved the use of hydro-blasting on the internal walls to remove the stripper and clean the wall.  The company’s work instructions required that a confined space permit be issued and that appropriate PPE be worn.

On 16 August 2007, an employee of Depot Vic Pty Limited died whilst attempting to remove latex from the internal walls of a 25,500 litre ISO tank.  The deceased had entered the tank and instead of using the ‘Selleys Renovators Choice’ stripper, had used a product known as ‘Paint Stripper Gel GS 125’ that was suited to clean external components only (and not the inside of the tank).  The label of this product contained safety directions such as “do not breathe vapour” and “use only in a well ventilated area”.  This product is a dangerous good ‘class 6.1 (toxic substance) of packing group 111’.  It is also a hazardous substance according to the criteria of the Australian Safety and Compensation Council.

The deceased was located in the tank in an unconcious (sic) state, and when retrieved from the tank did not regain conciousness. An expert analysis of the atmosphere inside the tank concluded that that (sic) there was a lethal concentration in all or part of the tank (10 litres of the dangerous good was used).  At the time of the incident a confined space permit was not issued, the deceased was not wearing respiratory protection, gloves or a harness, and there was no ‘spotter’ in place to supervise the latex removal works.

Further, there was a lack of training and supervision of employees in relation to the work procedures for confined space entry.”

Kevin Jones

2 thoughts on “Unique company response to confined space penalty”

  1. Hi Kevin,

    I too was shocked when i read that a company no longer in business told the court “it had put aside money to pay the fine.” Very admirable indeed! (although not forgetting the failings).

    Do you know if the company had a defense in court? If so, I imagine there would be a lot of cost associated also.

    Andrea

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