Two men have been left with life changing injuries following a tanker lorry explosion at a depot in Manchester. The two employees of Adler and Allan Ltd were driving a tanker to remove fuel from disused pumps at Plant Hill police station in Manchester. After dropping off the waste petrol, they returned to Adler and Allan’s site in Harcourt Street to clean out the inside of the tanker.
The men opened the tanker’s rear door and then attempted to use a pressure washer gun to clean the vehicle. But as they did this, there was an explosion and both men were engulfed in flames. The explosion caused a large fire, which destroyed the side of a neighbouring building.
Clearly the men had not understood the risks posed by flammable vapours and how they may easily be ignited by a source of ignition such as a spark from the equipment used or even from a static charge. Because of this both men were horrifically injured.
One of the men suffered serious burns across his body and spent three and a half months in hospital receiving treatment. He is now unable to expose his skin to sunlight and is unlikely to be able to return to work owing to his injuries. The other worker sustained serious burns to his face and required four skin grafts. He has been unable to return to work and is still receiving ongoing treatment.
The HSE investigated the incident and found that the company’s procedure for cleaning the tanker was unsafe. Petrol vapour had escaped into the yard when the vehicle’s rear door was opened and a spark from either the pressure washer or another ignition source has caused the vapour to ignite.
Had a DSEAR assessment been completed for the types of operations undertaken this should have been identified and suitable precautions put in to place.
Adler and Allan appeared at Manchester Crown Court in December and pleaded guilty to breaching s2 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. It was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay £8,166 in costs.
After the hearing the HSE commented that Adler & Allan were experienced in dealing with flammable substances but its risk assessment for cleaning out the tanker did not identify fire or explosion as a potential danger. Such an obvious risk given the nature of the substances they routinely handled; you have to question where they got their health & safety advice from!
Good quality risk assessment would have helped to avoid these horrible incidents; and it is mandatory anyway so the business had no defence.
Don’t put yourself or your business in a position that uncontrolled vapours come in to contact with a source of ignition or else it could be you in court and in the press.