WorkSafe New Zealand is urging workplace pranksters to keep health and safety top of mind, following an explosion that badly burned five workers in central Auckland.

In August last year, a barbeque gas bottle was mistakenly left running overnight in a shipping container on a Wynyard Quarter construction site. The next morning workers from subcontractor Vuksich and Borich opened the container to start work for the day. They could smell gas, and one of the workers joked about igniting his lighter. When he did, the gas caught fire and exploded.

WorkSafe’s investigation established this was a workplace prank gone wrong. All five workers, including the man himself, were burned. He deeply regrets his actions and has participated in restorative justice with the other victims.

“Being safe at work is a responsibility shared by both the employer and the employee and no one should be harmed because of a prank or joke gone wrong,” says WorkSafe’s area investigation manager Paul Budd.

“Our message is not about banning barbeques or restricting workplace socialising, but about keeping health and safety in mind whether you’re on the clock or taking a break together.

WorkSafe’s Energy Safety team says the incident is a reminder of the risks that exist with gas and the consequences that can follow. Energy Safety is the regulator for ensuring the safe supply and use of electricity and gas anywhere energy is used in Aotearoa, including workplaces.

“If you smell gas anywhere, take it seriously,” says Energy Safety’s technical officer, Paul Stannard.

“In some of the most significant gas-related events that have come to the attention of Energy Safety in the last few years, people have smelled gas but may not have recognised it as a warning sign.”

Be careful, don’t use flames or mobile phones, don’t turn on electrical appliances, leave the area and call the gas supplier or 111.

"WorkSafe took enforcement measures in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, after identifying issues related to gas bottle storage and worker training which Vuksich and Borich complied with. To further strengthen its safety management system, the company has since introduced a barbeque permit procedure and prohibits storage of gas cylinders or gas bottles inside shipping containers,” says Paul Budd.

“In relation to the incident itself we won’t carry out further enforcement, because prosecuting an individual or organisation is not in the public interest in this instance.

WorkSafe acknowledges Vuksich and Borich for the ongoing support it provided to the injured workers, as well as their cooperation throughout the investigation.

Read more about responding to gas leaks (www.worksafe.govt.nz/gas-leaks)

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