Esso fined $40,000 for workplace act breaches

ESSO Australia has been fined $40,000 after pleading guilty to breaches of the Workplace Health and Safety Act.

The company’s fine, which included more than $14,000 in court costs, came after it pleaded guilty to not providing adequate supervision, information or training to employees so they could perform their duties without risking their health.

The charges related to a November 2009 gas leak at one of Esso’s three gas plants, with a technician receiving bruised ribs while preparing the pipe for repair.

On November 6, 2009, a gas leak was detected in underground pipe work.

After the leak was secured, four technicians were sent to establish a double block and bleed isolation near the leak site. Their objective was to depressurise and purge the damaged line of hydrocarbons to enable the pipe to be repaired.

The control room advised the technicians the pressure in the line was five kilopascals, though that figure was really 6300kPa. The technicians failed to notice a pressure transmitter which indicated the higher pressure reading.

As only a small amount of vapour and liquid came out of a bleed value when it was opened, the technicians thought the lower pressure reading was confirmed.

Thinking the line had been depressurised, the technicians laid out a 10 metre long hydrocarbon hose to enable the venting of remaining vapour from the valve. Then the bleed valve was opened a second time, there was a release of 690 kilograms of gas at about 6300kPa pressure, resulting in an instant vapour cloud.

The pressure caused the hose, which was not tethered or connected to a drain or flare system, to flail about.

While attempting to leave the area, one of the technicians came into contact with equipment, bruising his ribs.

After emergency procedures were undertaken and the vapour cloud had diminished significantly, two operations technicians returned to the area with breathing apparatus to close the valve.

Magistrate Clive Alsop was told Esso failed to identify who was in charge of the employees undertaking the work, determine what type of gas was in the line to be drained ordepressurised, whether breathing apparatus was needed, and failed to determine whether to secure the hose during the task and what equipment was needed.

In handing out the fine, Magistrate Alsop said it was fortunate the end result was not worse.

“It was by good luck and good fortune there was no serious injury,” he said.

By its guilty plea, Justice Alsop said were was no argument about Esso’s responsibility or culpability. He said the company had taken active intervention to avoid a repeat of the incident.

The early guilty plea, which came after discussions with WorkSafe, helped Esso avoid a maximum fine of $292,000.

Esso Australia operations manager Simon Younger said Esso had made changes to its training and supervision for these types of works.

“Our highest priority is the safety of our people and the safety of our plant,” he said.

WorkSafe’s acting general manager for health and safety operations Jarrod Edwards said major hazards facilities required a greater level of risk control because of the potential impact on the wider community.

For more read Friday’s Gippsland Times.