The water tank incident at Gunning two weeks ago that claimed the lives of Andrew and Annie Basnett and Andrew’s brother, Richard was a terrible tragedy.
Media reports say Andrew Basnett had been cleaning a tank with a petrol water pump on February 16 when he collapsed. When his brother Richard and wife Annie came to his aid, they too collapsed and died in the tank. The findings of toxicology reports are still some time away but it’s widely understood Andrew, Annie and Richard died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
The association’s thoughts have been with their loved ones since we first heard the sad news. Unfortunately this isn’t the first incident of its kind. I remember two similar incidents involving people who died while working below ground with a petrol-driven pump. These tragedies highlight the dangers of working in confined spaces.
Carbon monoxide being heavier than the surrounding air will always settle at the lowest point and because the odourless, colourless gas slowly builds up in a confined space, people can be poisoned without even knowing. Confined spaces such as a tank or silo inherently have low ventilation and usually poor accessibility. When working in a confined space precautions must be taken.
These include proper ventilation and the correct placement of equipment, so fumes do not enter the confined space.
Before going underground or into a tank, you should always let someone know what you’re going to be doing.
Safe work is treating the Gunning incident as a domestic accident, because the tank was connected to the house and “not a workplace accident”.
NSW Farmers believes a new safety awareness program is needed.
We want to work together with SafeWork to highlight the dangers of working in confined spaces to ensure a tragedy such as this never happens again.
- Derek Schoen, NSW Farmers president