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MAKESHIFT WASTE FURNACE SPARKED EXPLOSION

Contractor prosecuted after two workmen sustained serious burns in blast

1st Surface Ltd has been fined after two workmen sustained serious burns when using an air raid shelter as a makeshift furnace to burn waste. The incident occurred during work to extend and resurface a tennis court in Bromley on 25 January 2011.

Westminster Magistrates heard (21 November) that as part of preparation work an area of overgrown garden needed to be cleared. Waste sufficient to fill some five skips was accumulated.

It was decided to use the air raid shelter in the garden as a ‘furnace’ to burn the waste. One workman entered the shelter via a chimney at the top. He placed kindling to get the fire started and poured on petrol to act as an accelerant.

The workman left the shelter and his colleague threw a lighted taper into the shelter. The petrol vapour that had accumulated within the shelter exploded and both men, standing on top of the shelter, were forcibly thrown off their feet. The men were hospitalised for several days and one is still unable to return to employment.

Safe system of work must be agreed and communicated

1st Surface Ltd, of West Byfleet, Surrey, was fined £9,000 and ordered to pay £2,571 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

HSE told the court that 1st Surface Ltd had failed to properly assess and plan the waste disposal aspect of the work. Skips would have provided a safe solution but the the system of disposal chosen was extremely high risk. The workmen were said to unaware of the significant risk posed by petrol vapour, especially in a confined space.

After the hearing, HSE inspector Kerry Williams said:

“This incident could easily have been prevented with a minimal amount of planning and preparation.

Many people do not recognise the explosive risk presented by petrol vapour, and as the men had been provided with petrol for other purposes their employer should have made the risks clear to them.

The underlying issue here is that 1st Surface Ltd should have agreed and communicated a safe system of work in advance. Had the company done so, they wouldn’t have needed to take matters into their own hands in the way they did. Ultimately it was the company’s responsibility to keep them safe and ensure they worked in a sensible, carefully-controlled manner.”

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