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Young workers suffer burns after biofuels ignite

A South Nowra motor vehicle repair shop was fined $135,000 for breaches of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 after two young workers were injured while making biofuel.

The company’s director Nathan Weissel was also fined $22,500 following a prosecution by SafeWork NSW.

Valerie Griswold, SafeWork NSW Executive Director of Investigation and Enforcement said the case highlights the need for all businesses to ensure they are creating environments where young people are protected.

“Young workers across all industries need appropriate training, support and supervision,” Ms Griswold said.

On 11 August 2017, a 19-year-old male worker with O2 Motorsports Pty Ltd, was tasked with making a batch of biofuel by his supervisor Mr Weissel. Also on site for his first day of work experience was a 16-year-old school boy.

Mr Weissel designed the system himself so he could make biofuel for his personal use.

The manufacture of biofuel required the worker to pour 200 litres of used cooking oil into a vat and heat it to 60 degrees using an LPG gas burner.

The worker was only supervised for the initial steps then Mr Weissel left the premises. It was only the second time the worker had been directly involved in making biofuel.

The worker mixed hazardous chemicals together including 40 litres of highly flammable methanol with sodium hydroxide. He then asked the 16-year-old male work experience student to help carry the bucket of chemicals to the mixing vat.

As the workers poured the chemicals into the vat, it caught on fire. There were a number of ignition sources in the area.

The work experience student was thrown backwards and suffered flash burns to his eyes. The worker suffered burns to his legs, hands and face.

Both the company and Mr Weissel pleaded guilty in the NSW District Court to breaches of the Act around failing to comply with health and safety duties.

The system of work was inherently dangerous, the PCBU had poorly managed the use, storage and handling of hazardous chemicals at the workplace and there was inadequate supervision, instruction and training provided to vulnerable workers.

Ms Griswold said it was concerning a young student was exposed to such a hazardous environment.

“If you employ young workers or work experience students, make sure you understand your obligations to protect them and support their health and safety at work.”

“They often struggle with a limited understanding of their rights and can be reluctant to raise concerns about safety – these and other issues specific to young workers are outlined in the SafeWork NSW At Risk Workers Strategy.”

“Safework NSW has also developed initiatives to help younger workers and their employers including an eToolkit and the Speak Up Save Lives app, a tool to help break down barriers to reporting unsafe work.”

O2 Motorsports Pty Ltd and Mr Weissel have the right to lodge an appeal.

Young worker's e toolkit

At risk worker's strategy

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