A significant case law decision, SafeWork NSW v AGL Macquarie Pty Ltd (2023), has highlighted the consequences of an unsafe work environment.
AGL Macquarie Pty Ltd, the operator of Liddell Power Station, was fined $450,000 by the District Court of NSW for an incident that caused severe burns to an employee. Mr. McNeill, an Assistant Plant Controller, suffered second-degree burns to 19% of his body due to the company’s failure to establish a safe method of work.
The power station had four steam generator units, each equipped with a turbine and three transformers. Air ingress into a transformer tank was a known hazard, which could result in the rupture and ignition of hot oil. One of the oil coolers had a leak and required removal from service. During the process of bringing in a replacement oil cooler, a blockage was identified. As Mr. McNeill investigated the issue, the transformer exploded, causing the accident.
The court determined that AGL was aware of the risks associated with air ingress and had implemented procedures to prevent it. Regular maintenance was also conducted to test for leaks. However, the court found that AGL failed to develop and implement a safe method of work for changing over oil coolers on live transformers.
AGL admitted guilt and acknowledged the following lapses in safety measures:
- Prohibiting the changeover of oil coolers that are not in standby status.
- Verifying that an oil cooler is primed and in standby status before returning it to service on a live transformer.
- Prohibiting the opening of oil inlet and outlet valves on a cooler while a transformer is in service.
- Providing physical means to prevent the opening of oil valves on a cooler while a transformer is in service.
- Offering relevant information and training to workers regarding the safe system of work for changing over oil coolers on live transformers and the hazards associated with air ingress and potential explosions.
The court also noted that the existing system failed to adequately account for the possibilities that procedures might not have been followed, leading to closed oil valves, and that an oil cooler could be drained due to an undetected leak while out of service.
The AGL Macquarie case provides critical lessons for employers regarding workplace safety:
- Prioritise Safety Measures: Employers must prioritize the safety of their employees by implementing robust safety measures and protocols.
- Develop Safe Methods of Work: Employers should invest in the development and implementation of safe methods of work for all tasks, especially those involving potential hazards.
- Regular Maintenance and Testing: Conduct regular maintenance and testing to identify and rectify any potential safety issues or equipment failures.
- Provide Adequate Training: Employees must receive comprehensive training regarding the safe execution of tasks and the potential hazards associated with their work.
- Continuous Improvement: Employers should continually review and improve safety procedures, considering potential lapses and unseen risks.
“The AGL Macquarie case serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of failing to prioritise workplace safety. I urge employers to take immediate action to ensure the safety of their employees. By implementing robust safety measures, providing adequate training, and continuously improving workplace safety protocols, employers can create a secure and healthy environment for their workers” – Chris Muir Smith, HR Legal Connect
If you wish to have a Workplace Safety Consultation with us, please feel free to reach out and contact us and we will get back to you as soon as possible.