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Special Investigators - TV Series

Special Investigators - Episode 4 - INCINERATOR BURN

"He has been referred to the Burns Unit at Middlemore so it must be relatively serious, but we’re not too certain of what degree those burns are at this stage."

- Department of Labour inspector Marcus Nalter

A 20-year old worker at a West Auckland furniture factory suffered burns to his face from a fire flash when using an outdoor incinerator in August 2004. He was new to his job at Trewheeler Manufacturing, having started a little over a week before the accident occurred.

At the time of the accident, the company had recently taken over the business from another company. Department of Labour inspector Marcus Nalter was mindful that safety systems could deteriorate during changes of business ownership and that new management needed to be extra vigilant.

The employee was attempting to place solvent-soaked rags in the incinerator when the accident occurred. Andre Jooste, a director of the company, didn’t understand the reason for this as the factory had a procedure and disposal bins specifically for hazardous waste. The employee said he was not aware of the procedure.

The Department’s investigation established the employee kneeled down to open the incinerator door. The heat ignited the fumes on the solvent-soaked rags in the bucket sending a fireball into his face. One side of his face took the brunt of the flames.

The investigation identified a discrepancy between the employer and employee’s account. However, Marcus Nalter decided the company should be given time to improve its safety systems before any further action was taken.

In the meantime, the employee had been very fortunate in recovering from the burns with virtually no scarring or loss of sight.

Three months later another inspection of the factory revealed that new systems had been put in place and all employees were aware of them. No further action was required.

Marcus Nalter concludes: “I've come away pretty confident that we’ve got a company there that’s wanting to do the right thing. I think that’s a real good outcome from what started off being quite a nasty accident.”