On 1 March 2023, a plumber was sentenced in the Toowoomba Magistrates Court for breaching section 734(1) of the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004 (‘the Act’), having failed to comply with a safety requirement causing bodily harm to a worker. Magistrate Shephard imposed a fine of $5,000.
On 6 August 2020, a gas explosion occurred at a Denture Clinic in Toowoomba (“the Clinic”). As a result of that explosion, a worker suffered burn injuries consistent with bodily harm. Prior to 6 August 2020, a room had been built at the Clinic for the purpose of moulding and casting metal dentures (“the room”). A plumbing company was engaged by the Clinic to, amongst other things, supply gas to the room. The defendant was the sole director and secretary of the plumbing company.
Between about 1 June 2020 and 6 August 2020, the defendant attended the Clinic and installed a gas system in the room, namely copper pipe and fittings through which gas was to run. The outlet of the pipe that was installed in the room was provided for the future connection of a gas appliance. As at 6 August 2020, no gas appliance was connected to the outlet of the pipe.
On 6 August 2020, a worker was in the process of casting a metal denture mould in the room at the Clinic. At the time of the incident, the worker had removed a mould from the casting machine and was carrying it over to the sink. As he did so, an explosion occurred in the room. As a result of this explosion, the worker sustained bodily harm, namely burn injuries to his face that covered eight percent (8%) of his total body surface area.
A safety requirement applied to the installation of the gas system, pursuant to Schedule 2 of the Petroleum and Gas (Safety) Regulation 2018 (“the Regulation”), namely Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 5601.1.2013 (“the Standard”). The investigation revealed that the defendant failed to comply with clause 3.4.3 of that Standard in that he (a) did not fit the outlet with a quick-connect device; (b) did not seal the outlet using a plug, cap or blank flange; and (c) did not cap or plug the manual shut off valve that had been installed. The standard was a preferred standard under the Regulation, meaning it could be complied with by either meeting the requirements of the standard or by giving the chief inspector a particular notice as referred to in section 15 of the Regulation. Neither occurred in this case.
The investigation revealed that the explosion was caused by gas that released in the room and became ignited, likely by the heated metal used in the casting process. It was determined that, had the outlet of the gas piping been sealed, as required by the Standard, the gas would not have entered the room and could not have ignited.
In sentencing, Magistrate Shephard took into account the defendant’s early plea of guilty and reduced the penalty imposed in recognition of that early plea. Her Honour considered that the character references provided for the defendant spoke highly of the defendant’s professionalism, work ethic and contribution to the community. Her Honour sentenced the defendant on the basis that the offending was out of character for him and for his plumbing business. Her Honour acknowledged that the defendant had accepted the work to assist an associate and friend, despite not having the required licence to complete the work. Her Honour remarked that she would not dwell on the fact that the defendant was not licenced to complete the work, as he had not been charged with that offence.
Her Honour indicated that general deterrence was an important consideration in this matter and noted that personal deterrence was less of an issue given that the defendant had no history of prior offences under the Act. Having regard to all matters, Her Honour fined the defendant $5,000 and exercised her discretion to not record a conviction.
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Section 734(1) of the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004