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Club liable for employee's methylated spirits burns

Release Date

12 December 2014

An employer has been convicted for its failure to eliminate the risk of burn injuries through refuelling of methylated spirits burners. The burners should have been replaced with safer models.

[Full text of this case: Perry v Clare Country Club Pty Ltd [2014] SAIRC 37 (28 October 2014)]

Head chef with burns to face and neck

In January 2012, the head chef employed by a club tried to refill methylated spirits burners in the bain-maries in the dining room. When refilling the second burner, the methylated spirits ignited and exploded, splashing his face and neck. In hospital, his facial burns were found to be superficial and his eyes and airways were not affected. He was able to return to work after three weeks but left the employment shortly after. He found he had an adverse psychological reaction and was not able to work in a kitchen for some nine months.

The employer was prosecuted for breach of s19(1) of the now superseded Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act 1986 (SA). The club had failed to ensure the safety of the employee while refuelling the burners. The employer pleaded guilty.

Non-delegable nature of employer’s responsibility for safety

In the Magistrates Court of South Australia, the evidence showed that the head chef had not received formal induction when he started working for the club, and no risk assessment had been carried out for the use of the methylated spirits burners.

A previous incident with methylated spirits had occurred in January 2010, and a company director had warned that an alternative heating solution was needed. The general manager had established that electrically heated bain-maries were a reasonably practicable hazard control measure, but they had not yet been acquired when the second incident occurred. After the 2012 incident, the club immediately replaced the burners with electrical bain-maries.

The industrial magistrate remarked that although the employer had been aware of general risks involved with handling methylated spirits burners, and although the director had instructed the general manager to replace them, the director then had not followed up to ensure the burners had been replaced. The case illustrated the non-delegable nature of an employer’s responsibility for safety.

Fine imposed

The court accepted that the employer was remorseful over its breach and the injury caused. For the early guilty plea, the court allowed a reduction of 20 per cent in the penalty assessment.

The club was convicted and fined $12,000.

The bottom line: Fundamental risk management principles require employers to take all reasonable steps to eliminate or minimise safety risks.

Perry v Clare Country Club Pty Ltd [2014] SAIRC 37 (28 October 2014)

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