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Business prosecuted for dangerous tank work

posted on 21 March 2013 | posted in General News

18th March, Plymouth magistrates court heard that boat repair company C & L Marine Ltd sent two employees in to the boats diesel tanks to empty with buckets and carry out welding work to repair a leaking fuel tank in 2011. The two man, who had no training either with handling flammable fuels nor confined spaced training, were so worried about the dangers involved in the work there contacted the harbour master for advice which led to the Health and Safety Executive launched a full investigation which prevented the company carrying out any further work in the tank. Thisisplymouth.co.uk reported that the fuel tank was one deck down and accessed from a small manhole below the vessel’s net store. It was 4.5m long and 2.25m deep at its most extensive point and was curved in line with the shape of the vessel’s hull. They were required to use buckets to empty the tank of around 600 litres of residual seawater and diesel, and rags to clean the inside in preparation for the welding. Magistrates heard the two men wore normal work overalls and had no face masks on the first day. They swapped roles regularly to provide a respite from fumes and the cramped working space in the tank. One later recalled having a heavy feeling in his chest and finding it difficult to breath when he was in the tank and said he felt dizzy and faint. The next day, they prepared the inside of the tank for the welding work. One man used a grinder, causing sparks to fall on his workmate who was holding a lamp to illuminate the work, and creating significant amounts of fumes. The two finally abandoned the job and contacted staff at Sutton Harbour for advice. The Harbourmaster visited the boat and halted further work after the company failed to provide documentation and permits to show the tank was safe to work in. HSE Inspector David Cory, speaking after the hearing, said: “C & L Marine’s lack of preparation for this work showed very significant failings which could have led to tragedy – they should have been well aware of the risks cleaning and then welding in the diesel fuel tank would have posed. “The tank should have been thoroughly steam cleaned or jet-washed instead of being bucketed out and mopped with rags. There was no test for the presence of noxious or flammable gases or whether there was sufficient oxygen in the tank before the men began work. “If the diesel fuel residues had been sufficiently heated they would have created fumes which could have led to an explosion or fire. Ventilation was either absent or woefully inadequate." “The company didn’t have any emergency equipment or rescue plan. When staff are in a confined space a colleague should also be watching over the work – these are often called ‘top men’ or ‘sentries’. This was also missing.” “All employers involved in confined space working must consider their activities properly, train and equip staff sufficiently, and reduce and control risks as much as possible. All confined space work is high risk and if not properly controlled can go badly wrong, very quickly." “One of the workers put at serious risk was a young man just beginning his working career. Young people at work need extra training, supervision and guidance and sometimes restrictions on what they are allowed to do.” C & L marine of Fish Quay, Sutton Harbour, Plymouth, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and three breaches of the Confined Spaces Regulations 1997. The company was fined a total of £20,000 and ordered to pay £23,000 in costs. Read more on this story Follow This is Plymouth: @thisisplymouth on Twitter | thisisplymouth on Facebook
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