A business successfully defended OHS charges in the NSW District court recently, after proving their safety system did protect workers.
The charges were laid against Orica following an incident in 2011, when a worker cut into a live steam line with an angle grinder causing release of an arc of steam.
On the face of it you could understand the view of WorkCover e.g. a dangerous release of steam occurred, but examination of the facts clearly demonstrated to the court (and everyone else) that the company had a good safety system in place, with numerous layers of defence.
In essence the comprehensive safety precautions in place for this activity included:
- Permit System
A permit was required, and given in this case, to authorise cutting into the pipe.
- Shut-Down Specialist
A specialist shut-down co-ordinator was employed to identify and isolate piping prior to any work be allowed on the piping system (and then issue the permit).
Using a specialist co-ordinator minimises the risk of workers unfamiliar with the piping system to isolate the wrong pipe, as happened in this case due to what was found to be an unusual genuine mistake by the co-ordinator.
- Treat All Pipes as Live
The company system required workers to treat all pipes to be under pressure (live) even though a permit was issued, until proven otherwise. This was done in this case (per procedure below).
- JSEA Specified PPE
The job safety & environmental analysis (JSEA) identified potential hazard of pressurised fluids (per above philosophy), and specified the wearing of gloves and full-face shield. The PPE was worn by all workers involved in this incident.
- Precautionary Cut to Confirm Safe
The procedure also specified cutting a small nick in the pipe facing away from any person to allow harmless escape of gas if the wrong pipe was cut.
This sensible and extra precaution was followed by the fitter in this case and the escaping steam did not threaten any person.
Judge Curtis found the workers were not exposed to the steam risk (due to the systems explained above), and the controls in place even allowed for the potential human error that also occurred in this case.