Storage drum warning issued after explosion causes serious injuries

Published 21 Jan 2015

Employees need to be more careful when handling storage drums because of the risk of an explosion, WorkCover NSW has warned.

The organisation issued a safety alert to businesses after a worker at an Orange plumbing firm was seriously injured when a 44-gallon drum exploded while he was removing the lid with a plasma cutter.

Acting General Manager of WorkCover NSW's Work Health and Safety division Peter Dunphy said the incident caused fractures to the employee's head and upper body.

Serious injuries can result in total and permanent disabilities (TPD), which could prevent an individual ever returning to the workplace. In worst-case scenarios, accidents can lead to deaths.

"Typically, drums are cut using an angle grinder, plasma cutter, oxyacetylene burner or welding equipment," Mr Dunphy explained.

"This is an extremely dangerous activity, which has resulted in a number of workers being killed or seriously injured in recent years."

According to Mr Dunphy, a similar accident occurred in January 2013 when a 41-year-old man was cutting a 44-gallon drum at a Bomen-based business. This incident also resulted in worker injuries. 

He noted that drums are often recycled into storage containers in the agricultural industry, which puts staff at risk. This is particularly true if the drum previously contained flammable chemicals or residue.

Working with hazardous materials

Mr Dunphy said businesses must make sure no hot work or welding should ever be conducted close to items that have the potential to combust, with solvents considered especially dangerous.

"Drums that previously contained flammable liquids or gases must be handled with extreme care as they may contain vapours that, even after many years, can ignite when exposed to heat, resulting in fire and explosion," he explained.

WorkCover NSW's investigation revealed the employee involved in the Orange explosion had carried out cutting work on a number of other drums before the incident.

Furthermore, the drum had not been tested to check whether its previous contents could be considered hazardous.

"Businesses and workers should avoid work near stored flammable materials, such as welding, grinding and other hot work that may cause ignition," Mr Dunphy added.

WorkCover NSW confirmed the employee was placed into an induced coma after he was transported to Royal North Shore Hospital.

There are compensation and benefits available for individuals and their families when a workplace accident results in serious injuries or death.

Contact a seasoned superannuation disputes lawyer to help you navigate the process of making a TPD or death benefits claim.

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