Safety failures led to fuel tank explosion

A Hampshire contractor, who specialises in decommissioning fuel tanks, has been prosecuted for safety failings after a worker was burned while cutting up a disused tank.

The man, in his 20s and from Ringwood, suffered burns to his face and wrist when sparks from the disc cutter he was using ignited fuel vapour in the tank. The worker, who doesn’t wish to be named, was in intensive care for two days but has since made a full recovery.

The incident, on 13 March 2012, was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which prosecuted Ringwood-based contractor Laurence Greenland, trading as Fuel Pump and Tank Services, at Bournemouth Crown Court today (13 February).

The court heard how 54 year old Mr Greenland  had employed the worker to help remove two 20,000 litre fuel tanks from the site of a former filling station in Iwerne Minster near Blandford Forum.

Before removing the tank that exploded, fuel was emptied and the tank de-gassed so it appeared there was no flammable material or vapour left.  The tank atmosphere was monitored using a gas detector until a zero gas reading was given.

Despite his concerns, the worker used a disc cutter, brought by Mr Greenland for this specific task, to cut the tank into sections so it could be removed more easily from the site.  However, shortly after he started to cut the petrol end of the tank, an explosion occurred.

As well as injuring the worker, a number of nearby properties and vehicles were damaged by flying debris. HSE discovered a number of safety failings:

  • The safety assessment carried out before the work started was inadequate and there was no safe system of work in place;
  • The gas detector used to monitor the atmosphere had not been suitably calibrated and may have given false readings;
  • The tank had not been properly cleaned and flammable residues remained;
  • Although it would not have completely eliminated the risk of explosion, cold cutting techniques should have been used rather than a disc cutter, which generated heat and sparks, thus igniting the vapour when the tank was pieced.

Laurence Greenland, of Forest Side Gardens, Ringwood, Hampshire, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and Regulation 6(3)(a) of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations 2002. He was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £5,000 in costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector James Powell said:

“A number of failings led to this incident, which was entirely preventable.  It was only a matter of good fortune that the worker was not killed and other workers and members of the public not seriously injured.

“This case emphasises the need for employers to give proper consideration to work hazards before they place their employees in situations where they might be put at significant risk. Laurence Greenland failed to manage the risks of explosion and eliminate the risk of injury to workers and the public, and damage to property.

“People working with potentially explosive equipment should follow the safety procedures set out in industry guidance and all employees engaged in such work must be given adequate training in the risks involved and the precautions required.”

Notes to Editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice, promoting training, new or revised regulations and codes of practice, and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement.
  2. Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 states: “It shall be the duty of every employer to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.”
  3. Regulation 6(3)(a) of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations 2002 states: “Every employer shall ensure that risk is either eliminated or reduced, so far as is reasonably practicable, in the presence or use of a dangerous substance at the workplace by replacing it with a substance or process which reduces or eliminates that risk.”
  4. Visit for all HSE news releases

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