OSHA investigates gas plant explosion

Although many California companies might be exploring the feasibility of alternative fuel sources, petroleum remains a dominant fuel source for consumers and businesses. That demand, in turn, requires infrastructure and plants. Yet the concentration of highly flammable gas or petroleum products in one plant might create a safety hazard, as today’s story illustrates.

A propane plant explosion with a 200-foot flame recently injured eight individuals. The plant refilled propane tanks for home and consumer uses, but on a massive scale. An estimated 53,000 canisters -- each weighing around 20 pounds -- were on site at the time of the explosion.

The magnitude of the explosion has prompted an inquiry from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In particular, OSHA investigators may be questioning why water hoses installed at the plant, presumably to safeguard against the possibility of a fire, were not equipped for automatic operation. Instead, the hoses required manual operation -- which was not practical in this case because the fire prevented immediate access.

OSHA sets regulations which are appropriate to specific industries. Such regulations are generally intended to make workplaces safer and provide safeguards against on-the-job injuries. In this case, it only makes common sense that an employer should have seen the need for an automatic water hose system as a fire precaution. The need to immediately put out a fire at a propane plant, in other words, might be regarded as a foreseeable safety precaution. As a workers’ compensation lawyer might agree, any workers injured by the lack of such precautions might have legal grounds to expect their employer to provide for their medical costs and lost wages.

Source: The Associated Press, "Massive explosions rock Blue Rhino gas plant in Florida," Mike Schneider, July 30, 2013

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