The company behind a beloved Ipswich rugby-league identity’s tragic workplace death at Yatala has been sentenced for reckless conduct..
The company behind a beloved Ipswich rugby-league identity’s tragic workplace death at Yatala has been sentenced for reckless conduct..

‘Life worth f*** all’: Boss walks after man’s fiery death

The director of a southeast Queensland waste liquid recycling company at which a young plant operator suffered a "near-instantaneous death" when he was engulfed by a petrol-fuelled fireball has had his charge sensationally dropped in court.

Ipswich man Matthew O'Brien, 38, a plant operator at Oil Tech International Pty Ltd at Sandy Creek Rd Yatala, died about 8am on the morning of November 5, 2015.

Oil Tech and its sole director Michael Joseph Reid were charged in October 2017 with reckless conduct by the Office of the Workplace Health and Safety Prosecutor.

However, in Beenleigh District Court today, the office offered nolle prosequi, no evidence, against Mr Reid, meaning only the company, which the court heard had been essentially liquidated, would answer the charge.

Ipswich plant operator Matthew O'Brien, 38, who perished in a fire at a Yatala workplace, Oil Teach International Pty ltd, on November 5, 2015. Picture: File
Ipswich plant operator Matthew O'Brien, 38, who perished in a fire at a Yatala workplace, Oil Teach International Pty ltd, on November 5, 2015. Picture: File

The court heard Mr O'Brien and another worker were the only two on site when the tragic incident occurred.

A tanker containing a mixture of water and petrol arrived to unload its noxious cargo, only to find all storage tanks were full to the brim.

Mr O'Brien called his manager, who informed him to direct the tanker's driver to unload their payload onto a driveway which was sloped on all sides, leaving the liquid to pool in the bottom.

The Yatala fire which claimed the life of Ipswich plant operator Matthew O'Brien, 38. Picture: File
The Yatala fire which claimed the life of Ipswich plant operator Matthew O'Brien, 38. Picture: File

Initially, the liquid released was just water, but after a minute or two, a pink liquid, petroleum, which had risen to the top of the tanker due to water being denser, began flowing.

Simultaneously to this, Mr O'Brien had been operating a 240-volt heat gun to expand the hose of a trash pump, which would be used to pump the liquid out of the pit.

Oil Tech International Pty Ltd director Michael Joseph Reid (centre) leaving Beenleigh District Court flanked by his legal representatives. The charge against Mr Reid was dropped. Picture: Alex Treacy
Oil Tech International Pty Ltd director Michael Joseph Reid (centre) leaving Beenleigh District Court flanked by his legal representatives. The charge against Mr Reid was dropped. Picture: Alex Treacy

The driver, realising the imminent danger, shouted a warning, but it was too late - the confined nature of the space meant fumes had not dissipated, and either the heat from the gun or a spark from its motor ignited a massive fireball which consumed Mr O'Brien.

The tanker's driver attempted to combat the flames with a fire extinguisher, but they were so intense he was unable to locate Mr O'Brien, the court heard.

Prosecuting barrister Michael Copley QC told the court Oil Tech's recklessness was a classic case of 'profit over people' and that if the tanker had have been turned away due to the lack of safe storage, the death would have been avoided.

The court heard Oil Tech had woeful systems in place to avoid risks such as these, which Mr Copley summarised as essentially telling employees to only smoke in the main carpark away from flammable liquids.

Police and Emergency services at the Oil Tech International premises where a fire broke out on the morning off November 5, 2015. Picture: Regi Varghese
Police and Emergency services at the Oil Tech International premises where a fire broke out on the morning off November 5, 2015. Picture: Regi Varghese

In addition to this, the only system Oil Tech had in place for determining the chemical composition of waste liquids it was handling involved discharging a small amount from the tanker into a jar and sniffing it.

Mr Copley read a harrowing victim impact statement from Mr O'Brien's widow to the court.

"I will live every day of my life without the man I thought would be with me for the rest of my life," she said.

"I never got to say 'I love you' or goodbye."

Mr O'Brien's widow, a prep teacher, said children at her school were traumatised when they saw her reaction to being informed of the tragic in the principal's office by two police officers.

His death was also 15 days before Mrs O'Brien's birthday and the couple's 15-year wedding anniversary, a day she now dreads each year.

Oil Tech pleaded guilty to the single charge of reckless conduct and was fined $800,000, with a conviction recorded.

Speaking outside the courthouse, Mr O'Brien's brother Dale was incredulous at the result.

"It just goes to show a human life's worth f*** all," he told the Courier Mail.

"The family's not going to see a cent of that.

"It's not going to put (his daughter) through university."


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