Don’t be blasé about toxic fumes and confined spaces
Waterproofing company Gunac Hawke’s Bay Limited has been fined $33,750 and ordered to pay reparation of $2,500 after one of its employees was overcome by toxic fumes.
The worker was applying a bitumen-based product called Novaglass rapid primer to the inside of a grain silo at an egg farm near Hastings at the time of the incident in April 2014. He was wearing a respirator, but did not have a solvent filter available and so used a dust filter. That meant he was exposed to the toxic solvent fumes.
The worker spent more than six hours working by himself on the silo, and was found unconscious and unresponsive on the bottom of the silo near the end of the work day. He was taken to Hawke’s Bay Hospital where he was diagnosed as suffering from the toxic effect of carbon monoxide and “other gases, fumes and vapours”. He was discharged later that same day.
Gunac Hawke’s Bay pleaded guilty in the Hastings District Court for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure that its employee was not exposed to the hazard of working with solvents in a confined space. The company was charged under sections 6 and 50 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act.
WorkSafe New Zealand’s Chief Inspector Keith Stewart says working with toxic chemicals in a confined space is inherently risky.
“Gunac Hawke’s Bay had not trained its employees in working in confined spaces and did not have an operating procedure for such work.
“The company’s director admitted that maybe he had “got blasé about the health and safety” because he had experienced staff and Gunac had a good health and safety record. Well, you can’t afford to get blasé when it comes to working with hazardous chemicals – especially in a confined space.
“In this instance the worker in question escaped without serious, long-term health effects – but that was more a matter of good luck than good management,” says Keith Stewart.