A worker at a repair garage was knocked unconscious after being instructed by a supervisor to cut the top off of an old oil drum so it could be used to burn rubbish in. To complete the task the man used an oxyacetylene torch, when he was knocked backwards as the drum shot up into the air.
His colleagues rushed to his aid to extinguish the associated fire and the man spent five days unconscious in hospital. All of this was captured on CCTV.
The company was prosecuted and pleaded guilty to charges under the HSWA for not ensuring the safety of its employees and the MHSWR for failure to conduct a suitable risk assessment. The courts ordered the business to pay £40,000 in fines and £17,000 in costs.
As the inspector prosecuting the case commented, this was a classic case where a bit of thought of the potential risks would have avoided a completely preventable incident and saved the pain and financial costs that have since been incurred.
Now you may well be thinking “what a stupid thing to do and why would someone ask an employee to do such a thing!!” Unfortunately it’s not the first time we have come across such a task and generally, when we point out the risks, some employers have looked at us in disbelief.
One business in the West Country routinely appeared to cut the top off of old solvent drums to use as waste bins and never completed a risk assessment. Thankfully no one had been injured and we picked this up during a DSEAR assessment of the site; it was just a matter of time before sparks from the cutting tool ignited the highly flammable vapours in the drums. It does make you wonder what people are thinking about when they decide that saving a few pounds in this way is a good idea.