Petroleum Distributors Jersey have been fined £100,000 after one of their employees' actions led to a large-scale blaze and mass evacuation at La Collette.
The fire occurred on 25 May last year, after a PDJ worker, who was not found to be wearing appropriate clothing, attempted to cut a petrol pump in a lubricant store - a practice that the Royal Court concluded was unsafe.
PDJ were sentenced today after admitting before the Royal Court that they had breached the Health and Safety at Work Law for failing to carry out a risk assessment for the decommissioning of petrol pumps.
The offence took place on 25 May at at PDJ's premises at La Collette, as an employee with 17 years' experience was attempting to decommission a petrol pump which had been removed from a petrol station in Stopford Road. While PDJ mainly supplies fuel and lubricant products and service boilers, it also provides petrol forecourt services to local businesses, including the repair and decommission old petrol pumps, under the unincorporated business name of 'Forecourt Services'.
Video: Fire and Rescue Services and Jersey Police attending the Fuel Farm site during the blaze.
The Court heard that there were only two employees at 'Forecourt Services' who worked on the decommissioning of pumps. Both of them had mostly learned "on the job" and, while they received some training, it was unclear whether they had been trained to decommission dispensers of this type.
The Attorney General explained that petrol pumps are drained from any leftover fuel in the mechanism, back into the underground petrol tanks while on site at on the forecourt. However, on this occasion, the pump was not working and so it couldn't be drained on site. It was therefore removed and brought to the La Collette premises, which are located close to a 200 tons liquefied petroleum gas bulk storage facility and a fuel storage depot with 11 large storage tanks holding petrol, kerosene diesel, oil and aviation fuel.
While the two employees had discussed flushing out dispensers with water to make the process quicker and safer by getting rid of the fuel or vapours left in the pump, this was not possible with this particular one, as the pump was not working.
The Court heard that petrol pumps had previously been taken to the La Collette site on five occasions where they had always been decommissioned outdoors.
The Attorney General said that the sequence of events that unfolded during the process "demonstrated why a risk assessment is so important." He added that the employee made "a number of poor judgments in deciding how to carry out the work, using a system of work which he already knew was unsafe, which inherently involved the release of highly flammable petrol and vapour."
Pictured: PDJ were handed a £100,000 fine in the Royal Court.
The Court heard that the employees "decided that it was too hot to work comfortably outdoors" and brought the petrol pump inside the company's lubricant store. He closed the roller shutter behind him and placed the pump into a drip tray, fashioned out of a domestic heating oil tank. He placed absorbent matting in the tank to soak up spilled fuel, although he believed there would be very little of it as the pump hadn't been used in a long time.
He then started using a battery-operated reciprocating saw to cut the pump unit. The Attorney General said: "Rule one in the safety notes for the saw state: 'Do not operate power tools in explosive atmospheres such as in the presence of flammable liquids, gases or dust. Power tools create sparks which may ignite the dust or fumes.'"
The Court heard that after the employee had made ten cuts to the pump, he saw a flash. He said he thought they had come from the bottom of the pump and went past his head before starting a fire in the store. The Attorney General said that the employee's attempt to smother the blaze with a powder fire extinguisher drove the flames into a number of plastic containers holding a mixture of oils and lubricants stored nearby.
The employee, who was not wearing appropriate safety clothing for his type of work, was burned to his left arm and left the area for safety. The heat alarm was activated and alerted the Fire Service. A total of 25 firefighters, three fire engines, a foam tanker, two supports 4x4s and a command vehicle were required to control the blaze. The intervention took around two hours and was described by the Fire Service as "resource intensive."
Pictured: The Attorney General said the PDJ employee "made a number of poor judgments" and used "a system of work which he already knew was unsafe".
Geoffrey Van de Vliet, a Director of the Company, was interviewed and couldn't explain why the employee had chosen this method and location for decommissioning the pump. He admitted that there had never been a risk assessment for decommissioning petrol dispensers at the La Collette, while there had been for the ones decommissioned on petrol station forecourts.
The Director explained that the company had hired a Health and Safety consultant in 2016 to carry out risk assessments for them and that they were working with the consultant to build up a library of risk assessments to cover the various jobs undertaken by the employees. He said he would have expected such an assessment to be done for the work at La Collette.
Representing PDJ, Advocate Adam Harrison told Court that the £100,000 fine suggested by the Attorney General was too high. He denied the level of culpability for the company was high, suggesting instead that it had been medium. He also assured Court that systems were in place to prevent such incidents and that this was proven by the risk assessments.
The Bailiff, Sir William Bailhache, who was sitting with Jurats Pamela Pitman and Jane Ronge, said: "The Court takes as a given that employers' obligations under the Health and Safety Law... are strictly enforced."
He added that the Court was pleased to hear that the new owners of the company were committed to having risk assessments and systems in place.
However, he added: "It is incomprehensible that an experienced employees could have acted in this way, and in fact did so on five occasions."
He said that specific factors should have been the subject of risk assessments and deemed the Attorney General's recommendations appropriate. He therefore sentenced PDJ to a £100,000 fine and ordered them to pay an additional £5,000 in costs. The company has been given two weeks to pay.
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