Posted on 09 December 2015.
A workplace party trick gone wrong has seen a Kalgoorlie apprentice seriously burned and an engine repair company fined $80,000 and ordered to pay $6000 in court costs.
Primepower Engineering Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to maintain a safe workplace and, by that failure, causing serious harm to a worker. The company was fined today at Kalgoorlie Magistrates Court.
On November 11, 2011, Primepower staff finished work early, at 11.00am, to celebrate Remembrance Day and Director Peter Allan’s birthday.
In the early afternoon, at Primepower’s premises, some of the apprentices tried to make a tractor engine seize by over-revving it until it failed. This had been attempted previously, and Mr Allan described it as a “challenge to the apprentices”.
After doing some work on the engine, the apprentices took it outside, and eventually got it to start about 3.00pm.
The throttle of the engine was fixed in a fully open position and the apprentices went about trying to seize the engine by introducing brake cleaner, water, compressed air, thinners, methanol and ultimately petrol into the turbo air intake.
About 7.00pm, one of the apprentice electricians was standing in front of the running engine and pouring petrol into the turbo air intake when the petrol ignited. It is believed a spark came off the flywheel and caused the ignition.
The apprentice suffered burns to 61 per cent of his body, resulting in impaired function in his arms, severe scarring and pain, the need to wear pressure garments and ongoing treatment to his damaged elbows.
He has had at least eight rounds of surgery, continues to see a plastic surgeon and would have died from his injuries without medical intervention.
Outside court, WorkSafe WA Commissioner Lex McCulloch said Primepower’s management would have been aware of the risks involved and did not take any action to alleviate them.
“It seems that Primepower management actually encouraged the apprentices in their hazardous actions, facilitating the attempts to seize the engine that resulted in terrible injuries to one of the apprentices,” Mr McCulloch said.
“A young apprentice was exposed to a serious hazard when the employees should have been instructed not to pour or spray flammable substances into the air intake of the engine, and this instruction should have been enforced by management.
“As a result, the young apprentice has suffered extremely painful injuries and his life has been permanently changed.
Mr McCulloch said the case was a reminder that employers are responsible for the safety of their employees even when they are attending social functions at a workplace.