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Flammable Fumes And Welding Do Not Mix

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The death of a Greymouth man, who was killed when a bitumen tank exploded is a tragic reminder to employers and contractors of the risks of welding near sources of flammable fumes, according to the Department of Labour.

The Department's Regional Manager, Southern, Sheila McBreen-Kerr says that industry safety rules were ignored, and no action was taken to stop the man welding on top of a tank containing flammable cutback bitumen. Cutback bitumen contains flammable products such as kerosene to make it more fluid, easier to apply and quicker drying. "This accident was easily preventable."

She was commenting on the sentencing of Fulton Hogan Limited today in the Greymouth District Court on a charge laid by the Department under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 (the Act). Fulton Hogan was fined $80,000 and ordered to pay reparation totalling $100,000 after earlier admitting failing to take all practicable steps to ensure no employee of a contractor was harmed while doing work the contractor was engaged to do.

On 4 September 2009, an employee of E-Quip Engineering Limited (E-Quip) that was contracted to Fulton Hogan was welding a handrail at the top of the bitumen tank when the explosion happened. The tank contained 15,000 litres of cutback bitumen that was heated to 165. When cutback bitumen is heated to that temperature, it produces flammable fumes which build up rapidly inside the tank. The mix of flammable fumes, oxygen and the heat from the welding torch caused the fumes to ignite and the tank to explode, killing the worker.

"Fulton Hogan knew the risks and yet they did not tell the contracted welder to stop work" Ms McBreen-Kerr says.

"This accident happened because there was a failure to take appropriate steps to control the hazard of an explosion. This would simply have involved telling the contractor's employee to stop work until the tank was emptied - flammable fumes and welding do not mix."

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