Are your surroundings putting you at risk?

A recent incident which saw a worker seriously injured highlights the importance of not only assessing the safety of the location and equipment you are actually working on, but also the surrounding or nearby equipment and other environmental conditions.

In May this year, an employer was prosecuted and fined $45,000 and ordered to pay costs of $2900.00 after a worker was exposed to high-pressure ammonia refrigerant while working next to a live refrigeration unit.

The worker was working from an elevating work platform (EWP) to install a partition wall in a large cool-room. The EWP was in close proximity to a chiller unit that was operating while the work was being conducted. The EWP knocked a valve on the chiller unit, releasing high-pressure ammonia refrigerant. The worker was sprayed in the face with ammonia and inhaled ammonia, causing serious lung inflammation and burns to the respiratory tract requiring treatment in an intensive care unit. This incident had the potential to cause fatal injuries and resulted in the failure of the refrigeration system and the loss of a large amount of high-value food.

The Worksafe WA investigation identified the following contributing factors:

  • The workers (contractors) did not receive any information, instruction or training regarding the hazards of the chiller unit.
  • Hazards of working in close proximity to a live chiller unit containing high-pressure ammonia were not adequately identified.
  • A thorough risk assessment was not conducted.
  • The chiller unit and associated pipes were not labelled to identify the presence of ammonia or any other hazards.
  • The chiller unit remained operational while the work was carried out.
  • Workers were required to conduct their work under very tight space restrictions despite their requests to be provided with more workspace.
  • The person at the workplace who would normally provide the contractors’ induction was on leave and no alternative arrangement was implemented.