Many times when a serious or fatal accident occurs, the tragedy is amplified by the fact that it could have easily been prevented. This is true of a recent incident that turned the holidays into a tragic time for the families of three Dallas workers who lost their lives.
The three men were subcontractors hired to clean a 30-foot-deep storage tank in Dallas’ Thanksgiving Tower. The man with the most experience (two years on the job) was using a torch to cut away rusted components from the tank when a spark suddenly ignited a flash fire, which triggered an explosion. The building’s power went out, likely due to the explosion, causing their co-workers to be unable to use the mechanical lift to pull the men from the tank.
There are many proactive measures that could have been taken to prevent this accident, from training employees to feel empowered to make critical decisions to ensuring that work environments are safe. This accident is representative of how a typical work day can turn tragic if safety preparation isn’t made ahead of time.
General safety tips
Every employer, regardless of injury, can learn valuable lessons from this tragedy:
– Train new employees on safety procedures before you let them start working.
– Hold subcontractors and temporary employees to the same safety standards as permanent employees.
– Provide regularly scheduled refresher training to long-time employees.
– Empower your employees to stop any operation they feel is unsafe.
– Do not send employees to clients’ job sites if you feel their safety is at risk.
Incident-specific safety tips:
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is investigating the Thanksgiving Tower accident, so we do not know all of the details. But here are some general safety tips that apply to hot work, confined spaces and flash fires:
– Remember that some city fire codes require employers to get special permits to perform hot work. Even if yours does not, OSHA
encourages every employer to develop its own hot work permit system. Click here for a sample hot work permit.
– Train employees to work in confined spaces. Training should include evacuation procedures in the event of an emergency.
– Test for flammable gases and other chemicals in the atmosphere before starting hot work.
– Separate hot work from flammable material. If that is not possible, use guards to confine the heat, sparks and slag, and to protect the immovable fire hazards.
– Make fire-extinguishing equipment, such as pails of water, buckets of sand, hoses and portable extinguishers immediately available and ready to use.
– Appoint a “fire watch” who is armed with fire-extinguishing equipment and is trained to use it. The fire watch should continue observing the work site for at least 30 minutes after completion of welding or cutting operations to detect and extinguish smoldering fires.
– Enforce the use of personal protective equipment, which could include fire-retardant clothing, flash suit hoods, insulating gloves, and eye, face and respiratory protection.