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RLDVIEW Jeff Patchell

It would never happen to me . . . ’m not sure if my home town of Melbourne holds an unfortunate record but we seem to have more than our fair share of plumbing van explosions.


These are such preventable accidents, with three I am aware of taking place in the past couple of years. Generally it means a life is lost, for others it has been their awakening and their life given a second chance. In our most recent accident, a young HVAC and plumbing technician lost his life when it is believed a leaking gas cylinder, one of seven in his van, exploded as he approached it. It is unclear what triggered the explosion, but the van’s automatic locking remote device is considered the likely cause. In this case, the force of the blast blew the sides and roof off the van and threw the young man about five-metres, spraying shards of metal and glass over a 100-metre radius. In another incident I remember some years back, a plumber climbed into the driver’s seat of his van sitting in his home driveway, intending to light his first cigarette for the day. Unfortunately his lighter ignited some leaky gas that was present and the whole vehicle blew up around him. He survived due only to incredible luck, as the explosion blew back behind him. The van was unrecognisable and completely burnt out. The van pictured here exploded as an apprentice approached. Following the investigation, it was determined that, like the case previously mentioned, the apprentice unknowingly set it off using the van’s central locking remote device. His employer received a $25,000 fine, following a WorkSafe investigation. The investigation found that the employer failed to: • Ensure the safety-cabinet in which the acetylene was stored was airtight; 100

• Ensure the cabinet was properly vented to the outside of the vehicle; and • Ensure the employees conducted a soapy wash test to check that the cylinders were not leaking before they loaded the cylinders into the vehicle.

SHOP TALK In several of these instances, it appears the automatic locking device has been the culprit – so maybe there is good reason to consider de-activating these devices on your company vans, going back to using the key. While that may bring screams from the younger staff, it may also just save a life. And it makes for a good topic for the next toolbox talk with your crew. Take them through the following guidelines for gas cylinder safety. Even better, print them up and stick inside the back door of their vans as a constant reminder. • Transport cylinders properly secured and in the approved transport position. Cylinders and cylinder packs are heavy and need to be properly loaded and secured prior to dispatch to prevent them from coming loose and becoming a hazard. • If no other options exist and you must transport the cylinders in a van or car, ensure that the cylinders have been thoroughly leak checked and ensure the vehicle is well ventilated. Do not transport large quantities in this fashion. • Make sure the cylinder storage area of the vehicle is properly ventilated at all times. Windows or sides must be kept partly open to ensure good cross flow of air. Secure the cylinder. • Do not transport cylinders with regulators or equipment attached even if the cylinder valves are closed. • Remove the cylinders from the vehicle immediately upon arrival at the destination. • Check that cylinders have not been tampered with. Full cylinders are supplied with caps/plugs and in some cases the valve is encapsulated in a tamper evident shrink wrap film. If these are missing, exchange for one that is properly labeled. Better to be safe than sorry.

Jeff Patchell is managing director of Connection Magazines Pty Ltd. He operates, an online plumbing industry knowledge bank.

January/February 2012  

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