The Dangers of Workplace Explosions

Posted on October 21, 2011 at 11:39am by

When an explosion occurs in the workplace, the aftermath can be deadly. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010, 187 workers died as a result of workplace fires and explosions, an increase of 65 percent over 2009. Of those 187 fatalities, 82 occurred in workplace fires and explosions that involved multiple fatalities. Even when employers and workers take precautions to prevent explosions, accidents in the workplace can and do still happen. An experienced Atlantic City injury attorney knows how to protect the rights of workers injured or killed during a workplace explosion.

Dangerous Dust

According to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), between 1980 and 2005, 281 combustible dust explosions occurred in the United States, resulting in 119 deaths and 718 injuries. Combustible dust takes many forms:

  • Metal dust, including aluminum and magnesium
  • Wood dust
  • Plastic or rubber dust
  • Biosolids
  • Coal dust
  • Organic dust, such as flour, sugar, paper, soap or dried blood
  • Dusts from certain textiles

When a confined area has a sufficient quantity of any of the above dusts in the air, if that dust combines with an ignition source (heat) and there is oxygen in the air (oxidizer), an explosion can occur. The following practices help prevent dust explosions, or in the event of such an explosion, help protect workers from serious injury and death:

  • Establish a mandatory housekeeping program to minimize the accumulation of dust
  • Use proper ventilation and dust collection/extraction systems and manually collect/remove dust where automated cleaning systems cannot reach
  • Follow Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards for containing dust and control or eliminate potential ignition sources
  • Wear personal protective equipment when working in areas with combustible dust
  • Adequately train workers who work near combustible dust and advise them of risk assessment findings concerning dust explosions
  • Maintain equipment and utilize efficient work processes
  • Use flameless explosion vents
  • Install explosion suppression, containment and/or isolation equipment

While dust may seem harmless, under the right conditions, it can be deadly. Employees who work in dusty conditions should understand the risks of combustible dust and learn how to prevent dust explosions.

Hot Work Risks

“Hot work” refers to tasks such as burning, welding and similar activities that can ignite a fire. According to the CSB, since 1990, there have been over 60 fatalities from explosions and fires triggered by hot work on tanks. After a thorough investigation of hot work hazards and fire/explosion incidents, the CSB issued seven guidelines in Feb. 2010 intended to help companies prevent workplace explosions when hot work is performed in and around tanks. The CSB recommends that companies:

  • Consider alternative methods to avoid hot work altogether
  • Perform assessments to identify potential hazards and hazard control procedures
  • Monitor work areas for gas before and during hot work
  • In areas where flammable gases or liquids are used or stored, drain or purge all equipment before beginning any hot work
  • Obtain necessary hot work permits
  • Properly train workers on hot work policies and procedures
  • Inform contractors performing hot work about potential hazards, including the presence of flammable materials, and monitor the work performed by contractors

When companies observe the above guidelines, they can reduce explosion risks associated with hot work.

Workers should always observe safety guidelines and follow company protocols when working with or near flammable materials or combustible dust, when conducting hot work, and anytime an explosion or fire risk may be present. If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a workplace explosion, contact a qualified Atlantic City injury lawyer to learn about your legal rights today.