A Sydney construction company has been fined $240,000 following an explosion at its Eastwood house construction site in July 2013.

The explosion occurred when an excavator operator hired to remove three underground petrol storage tanks attempted to drag a tank out of the ground with an excavator. The explosion damaged a building at the site on Blaxland Road as well as a neighbouring property and broke the windows of several buildings across the road.

SafeWork NSW charged the construction company, Brilliant Along Developments Pty Limited, with a breach of 19(1) and 19(2)/32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 for failing to ensure the health and safety of workers and others.

SafeWork NSW’s investigation found that Brilliant Along Developments hired an unqualified contractor to remove the tanks despite a client of the previous site owner, who was qualified in underground storage tank removal, tendering for the work.

SafeWork also found that prior to removing the tanks, the contractor flushed out each tank with water in an attempt to remove residual liquid. The contractor then used an angle grinder to cut an opening in the tanks to remove any remaining liquid before using the same opening to drag the tanks out of the ground and to the back of the property with the bucket of his excavator. The contractor had successfully removed two tanks but an explosion occurred while attempting to remove the third.

Executive Director of SafeWork NSW, Peter Dunphy said although no one was injured in the explosion, the incident could have been catastrophic.

“Storage tanks that previously contained flammable liquids or gases must be handled with extreme care as there can be vapours which, even after many years, may ignite when exposed to heat,” Mr Dunphy said.

“Businesses and workers should take extreme care working near or on items that contain chemical residue, especially solvents.

“It is extremely fortunate that the contractor and people in nearby buildings were not killed or injured in the explosion.”

Mr Dunphy added that Brilliant Along Developments also failed to provide a number of notifications to SafeWork about work at the site.

“The company failed to notify SafeWork NSW about demolition work as well as the schedule 11 hazardous chemicals in the abandoned petrol storage tanks at the site,” he said.

“Had these notifications been provided, SafeWork could have assisted the company to comply with their work health and safety obligations.

“Instead, the company took no steps to address the risks and chose to rely on the contractor’s claimed experience, with near-disastrous consequences.”

Information on the notification of hazardous chemicals and abandoned tanks is available in the SafeWork NSW guide or by calling 13 10 50.

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