Melbourne-based Cool Dynamics Refrigeration was fined $285,000 late last year over in incident in which a 25-year-old refrigeration mechanic died when his work van exploded.
The case highlighted safety issues surrounding the transportation of dangerous goods – an issue that will become all the more acute as flammable refrigerants become the norm.
The company was convicted and fined $100,000 for failing to maintain a safe system of work, $55,000 for failing to provide information, instruction, training and supervision, and $130,000 for failing to ensure that people other than employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
The Victorian Country Court heard that the vans provided by the company included cylinders holding various flammable gases, such as acetylene and methylacetylene-propadiene (MAP), which require specific measures for safe transportation and storage.
These include purpose-built vented compartments or cabinets that contain the cylinders properly and which ensure any leaking gas escapes to the outside of the vehicle. The cylinders also require regular checking to ensure the valves are firmly closed and outlets capped.
The court was told that the van in which the explosion occurred was fitted with a cabinet but did not have a vent, and that employees were not trained in how to store and transport flammable gas cylinders.
A highly flammable gas such as acetylene can be easily ignited once mixed with air, and the court heard that a door-activated light switch was the most likely source.
In studying the case, the WA Department of Mines and Petroleum’s Resources Safety unit notes that the minimum energy required for propagating flammable gases is miniscule, with a propane-air mixture in the flammable range needing only 2.6 millijoules to ignite.
To put this in perspective, the energy generated by static electricity off human skin exceeds this threshold a hundred-fold. Other potential ignition sources in vehicles include electrical connections, switches, lighters and light bulbs.
Information is readily available through state government departments on best practice for transporting flammable gases, even when below the placard load threshold under the Australian Dangerous Goods Code.
Initiatives such as the automotive air-conditioning ‘future:gas’ roadshow (www.futuregas.ac) – particularly as it relates to the move from R134a to R1234yf and R744 – are also tackling the subject of handling the new refrigerants, the different flammability ratings and how to handle contaminated refrigerant mixes.