CSIRO issued with $1.5 million enforceable undertaking to improve lab safety

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Tuesday, 16 March, 2021 - 12:15
Incidents & prosecutions
National News

The CSIRO will spend $1.5 million on workplace health and safety improvements that will also benefit the broader research community as part of an enforceable undertaking endorsed by Comcare.

Following an investigation of an explosion at a Melbourne CSIRO laboratory, CSIRO was facing four criminal charges alleging it had failed in its duties under the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

CSIRO has entered into an enforceable undertaking with Comcare to implement a range of safety improvements, with the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions formally withdrawing the WHS Act charges in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.

The incident happened at the Clayton laboratory in June 2017 during an experiment that involved sawdust being heated at pressure using hydrogen gas in an autoclave.

Gas leaked from the autoclave and ignited, causing minor injuries to the researcher including cuts, bruises and facial burns. The explosion caused extensive damage to the building, propelling debris more than 20 metres into a garden area.

Comcare alleged CSIRO breached the WHS Act with failures relating to work environment, systems of work, plant and the provision of information and training.

The enforceable undertaking would strengthen safety systems and outcomes, said Comcare’s head of Regulatory Operations Justin Napier.

“This is a strong commitment that will deliver significant improvements at high-risk CSIRO operations across Australia,” he said.

“There are also benefits for the broader research community in the areas of risk assessment training, project risk management and technical infrastructure guidance.”

The legally binding undertaking includes:

  • A virtual and augmented reality training package to identify and control work health and safety risks in laboratories, and made publicly available
  • Upgrading existing project management systems to include health and safety risk management
  • Technical guidance to support hazard identification in high-risk environments for new projects and equipment at CSIRO and across the research industry.