Don KR evacuated: Hazardous gas leak

About 250 workers at Castlemaine’s Don KR factory had to be evacuated from the factory late last Thursday night following a hazardous ammonia gas leak on site.
Ammonia is used as an industrial refrigerant and the leak was understood to be due to an equipment breakdown.
Once in volatile gas form ammonia may cause severe chemical burning with eyes and respiratory surfaces particularly vulnerable.
The incident triggered an emergency response with the CFA notified and workers on site immediately evacuated from the factory building into the car park initially and then to the hospital auditorium before being bussed to the town hall in Lyttleton Street.
“We believe it was a mechanical fault in one of the ammonia pumps,” Castlemaine CFA brigade captain Terry Franklin told the Midland Express.
“We got the call at 10.12pm. We believe a coupling just let go in one of the compressors.”
While ammonia normally presents no danger in its refrigerant state, once mixed with air it can become highly hazardous.
“It’s really nasty stuff and can give pretty bad burns,” Mr Franklin said.
“We had ammonia detectors going, gas detectors going. It was pretty full on.”
Numerous CFA crews from throughout the area attended with specialist units also brought in from outside the area.
Firefighters who attended in the factory site were required to use breathing apparatus and special protective equipment.
Access roads around the immediate factory site were cordoned off with public warnings also issued to residents in the immediate vicinity of the Richards Road factory site.
Sergeant Peter Lukaitis of Castlemaine police said police assisted CFA with traffic management and site evacuation.
“Two people were taken to hospital for observation,” Sergeant Lukaitis said.
“The Don KR employees were very patient under pretty trying circumstances.”
Sergeant Lukaitis confirmed that as a normal precaution the Castlemaine hospital was on standby and was also required to shut down air conditioning units for some time to avoid risk of airborne gas contamination.
“The last stage for us was making sure there were no pockets of ammonia remaining on site and we were able to deem it safe and handed it back to the company at about 6am,” Mr Franklin said.
He said injuries had been avoided and praised the efforts of all emergency services and personnel involved.
A spokesperson for Don Smallgoods told the Midland Express that the company was working with WorkSafe following the incident.
“Immediately when the leak was detected, via facility sensors, emergency protocols were followed, employees were evacuated from the facility and authorities alerted,” the spokesperson said.
“Emergency services quickly arrived and took control of the site, and the leak was subsequently fixed and marked safe.
“The site was handed back to DON Smallgoods this morning (Friday).
“The health and safety of our people and community at DON Smallgoods is our highest priority, and our Castlemaine facility operates to the highest safety standards and regulations.
“We are currently investigating the matter to determine the root cause, and are working closely with authorities around the incident.”
EPA, police, Ambulance Victoria and local CFA brigades all attended the incident. It is not yet clear if last week’s high temperatures were a factor.

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