Campaspe News - - FRONT PAGE - Bendigo Ad­ver­tiser

A CORO­NER has found the deaths of two men fol­low­ing a gas ex­plo­sion at the Rochester Ho­tel could have been pre­vented, and the in­ci­dent high­lighted the dan­gers of un­qual­i­fied peo­ple do­ing tech­ni­cal work.

Fair­fax Me­dia re­ported David Lobb, 52, and Barry Purtell, 34, died from in­juries sus­tained in the blast in the cel­lar in June 2014.

Coro­ner Paresa Spanos found the ex­plo­sion was caused by a ci­garette lighter ig­nit­ing gas that had ac­cu­mu­lated in the cel­lar from a leak­ing re­frig­er­a­tion com­pres­sor.

The pair had of­fered to help re­move the com­pres­sor for the li­censees, who were va­cat­ing the premises.

The main­te­nance of the com­pres­sor was a key fo­cus of a 2016 coro­nial in­quest into their deaths, find­ings of which were re­leased by the Coroners Court re­cently. Coro­ner Spanos found the com­pres­sor, which had been known to be leak­ing re­frig­er­ant for sev­eral years, had been in­cor­rectly topped up by Mr Purtell in 2013 with a flammable re­frig­er­ant in­tended for use in car air­con­di­tion­ing sys­tems.

Coro­ner Spanos also found on June 15, 2014, the com­pres­sor was not ac­cu­rately la­belled to alert any­one to the pres­ence of flammable and non­flammable gases within the com­pres­sor. This, com­bined with “the cut­ting and in­ef­fec­tive crimp­ing of the pipes” of the com­pres­sor by Mr Purtell, a qual­i­fied diesel me­chanic, and Mr Lobb, a qual­i­fied boiler maker, cre­ated a mix­ture of gases in the cel­lar which were ig­nited when one of the two used a ci­garette lighter.

“The deaths were pre­ventable, in the sense that proper main­te­nance of the com­pres­sor that dealt defini­tively with the leak, could have averted the ex­plo­sion; proper la­belling of the com­pres­sor as to its ac­tual con­tents could have averted the ex­plo­sion, and proper pro­cesses be­ing en­gaged to dis­man­tle and re­move the com­pres­sor could also have averted the ex­plo­sion,” Coro­ner Spanos said.

‘ Their deaths high­light the dan­gers of un­qual­i­fied peo­ple do­ing work that re­quires qual­i­fi­ca­tions or, at least, a solid un­der­stand­ing of the sub­stances and risks in­volved ’

“Mr Lobb and Mr Purtell died in cir­cum­stances of a tragic ac­ci­dent in the course of re­mov­ing the com­pres­sor to help out a friend.

“While both men were good with their hands and happy to lend a hand, their deaths high­light the dan­gers of un­qual­i­fied peo­ple do­ing work that re­quires qual­i­fi­ca­tions or, at least, a solid un­der­stand­ing of the sub­stances and risks in­volved.”

Coro­ner Spanos, in her find­ings, said be­cause the pair were not qual­i­fied re­frig­er­a­tion tech­ni­cians, it would not be ap­pro­pri­ate for her to make rec­om­men­da­tions about in­dus­try prac­tices.

The coro­nial in­quest heard from a num­ber of ex­perts, in­clud­ing dan­ger­ous goods spe­cial­ist Peter Vi­tali.

He said while the ho­tel’s cel­lar was not de­fined as a con­fined space un­der the Oc­cu­pa­tional Health and Safety Act 2004, he felt it would at­tract re­quire­ments of the Dan­ger­ous Goods and Stor­age Reg­u­la­tions, mean­ing there was an ongoing obli­ga­tion on the oc­cu­pier of the premises to adopt suit­able risk con­trols to prevent in­jury to per­sons and prevent prop­erty dam­age.

How­ever, Coro­ner Spanos made no com­ments or sug­ges­tions re­gard­ing the ho­tel li­censees in her find­ings.

FLASH­BACK — Re­ports of the ex­plo­sion and deaths cov­ered by the Cam­pase News in 2014.

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