Father-of-three paralysed in fuel tank explosion in accident at work

Karol Robaczewski was cleaning the inside of a 20,000 litre fuel tank when he was engulfed by a fireball that caused severe burns and left him almost completely paralysed.

Mr Robaczewski, from Morecambe, was cleaning the inside of the tank by applying a highly flammable solvent to a cloth then wiping the walls. Mr Robaczewski decided that the lamp inside the tank was getting too hot and pulled the plug from the socket, creating a spark causing the fumes to ignite and cause an explosion.

Witnesses to the explosion saw flames shooting into the air up to two meters above the manhole cover.

The HSE investigation found the method of cleaning the fuel tanks with a highly flammable solvent had been used since 2007, but Fuel Proof had failed to carry out any kind of risk assessment. There was no supervision of workers or monitoring of the fumes inside the tanks, and the masks and lighting provided were entirely unsuitable.

Fuel Proof was fined £66,000 and ordered to pay £25,000 after pleading guilty to a charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Rose Leese-Weller said, “It is shocking that Fuel Proof allowed workers to use a highly flammable solvent to clean the inside of fuel tanks without giving a single thought to the risks. What is more appalling is that there was never actually any need for workers to use solvents and the company now uses soapy water”.

Written by Victoria Silsbury