An employer was involved in providing apprenticeship opportunities to young workers. The company engaged a 16-year-old high school student for work experience to see if it would take him on as an apprentice. The student was keen and seemed to show potential.
The student was asked to do a job using brake cleaner from a spray bottle. The bottle had no warning that the brake cleaner might be dangerous but the employer told the student verbally that it was highly flammable. The employer also told the student to be careful not to let the brake cleaner splash into his eyes as that would cause injury.
The student was asked to dismantle a machine part. He was warned not to use any power tools. The student ignored the instruction and decided to dismantle the machine part using the brake cleaner and a power tool. There was an explosion causing burns to his face, ears and arms. He needed artificial skin graft surgery and was left with permanent scarring.
The employer self-reported this incident to SafeWork. SafeWork sued the employer claiming that it had breached the Work Health and Safety Act.
The Court accepted that the student had been warned of the dangers and disobeyed instructions, however it found that the employer had not formally established a safe work procedure for using brake cleaner and that the brake cleaner was not appropriately labelled with warning signs. The Court also found that the warnings given to the student were not adequate in light of the risks. The company’s failure to follow Work Health and Safety rules resulted in a fine of over $120,000.00!
This case shows the importance of performing WHS audits and adequately maintaining health and safety procedures in your business.