DuraLabel's Weekly Safety News

Blog Author Angelique Sanders

Weekly safety news. Stay in touch with regulations from OSHA, NFPA, and other safety codes. Find out about other companies' best and worst practices. We scour the internet to provide you with helpful training resources and the latest safety information.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Two Separate, Fatal Work Incidents -- One in U.S., One in Australia -- Should Have Never Happened

It might be a whopping 8,000 miles (or 12,875 km) that separates Anacortes, Washington, USA and Clermont, Queensland, Australia, but these two locales made the news recently for sharing a common--and unfortunate--thread. Two fatal work incidents a world apart should have been easily avoided but instead tore at the hearts of those who knew the victims. Because of inexcusable negligence by those charged with overseeing the safety of workers, valuable human lives were lost.

The value of human life in the workplace must not be treated carelessly; may we all take a lesson from these two stories:

Clermont, Queensland, Australia
Date of incident: September, 29, 2008
In the news again: October 4, 2010

According to an article by Bruce Mckean of the Daily Mercury in Australia, 38-year-old Paul Dale, Yarrowmere coal mine project manager and site senior executive, was "in charge of 20 workers at a mining lease exploration site... when one of the workers was crushed to death by a water truck with faulty handbrakes and which rolled backwards and pinned him against a metal gate."

The truck's brakes had failed. But this wasn't a freak accident: only the day before this fatality, the very same truck experienced the same handbrake failure, rolling backward and hitting a drill stump. Mr. Dale knew about the incident the day before the fatal accident, but he reportedly told at least one worker not to say anything to investigators.

Workers continued to use the truck the next day, however, noticing the brake's failures begin to occur again around lunch and even more frequently as the day wore on. Finally, around 9 p.m., a nearby worker witnessed the fatal accident. When Mr. Dale was informed of the fatality, expletives exited his mouth, followed by the words "I should have taken the truck off the road.”

The Daily Mercury explains, "Authorities seized the truck for mechanical inspection and it was discovered that only two of the six service brakes were adjusted correctly and one of them had a significant air leak. Three of the four park brakes were incorrectly adjusted and were not operating effectively.

An investigation revealed that not all procedure manuals for workplace health and safety were at the mine exploration site at the time."

In court, Industrial Magistrate Damien Dwyer scolded Mr. Dale for his careless and illegal actions:

“You knew workers would be behind the vehicle at some stage and you knew of the difficulty with the handbrakes,” Mr Dwyer said.

“You knew workers would be behind the vehicle to open and close gates at some time. All efforts have to be taken to preserve the health and safety of workers.”

Mr. Dale pleaded guilty on October 4, 2010 in the Industrial Magistrate’s Court in Mackay to breaching his workplace, health and safety regulations. Besides losing his job immediately following the fatal incident, he was fined $15,000 and was ordered to pay $50,000 in investigation and legal costs.

Anacortes, Washington, USA
Date of incident: April 2, 2010
In the news again: October 4, 2010

According to an article in the The Seattle Times, The Washington Department of Labor and Industries yesterday issued a record $2.39 million fine against Tesoro. The explosion, which the agency deemed entirely preventable, killed seven workers at the Anacortes oil refinery. The agency cited Tesoro for 44 workplace violations, ranging from willful disregard of safety regulations to failing to inspect and maintain decaying 40-year-old equipment.

This fine is now the largest in the agency's history.

What caused the explosion? The root of the answer is Tesoro's blatant negligence.

The article explains that, Michael Silverstein, the assistant director of L&I's division of occupational safety and health, "said his inspectors determined the Anacortes accident was caused when a 40-year-old steel heat exchanger ruptured and spewed vapor and liquid that immediately exploded. Tests showed welds in the exchanger had developed cracks over the years. The rupture occurred along those weak points as the equipment was coming back online after maintenance."

Silverstein also said Tesoro hadn't properly inspected the exchangers since 1998, and even then didn't test the most vulnerable areas. He said Tesoro had planned to test them in 2008, but failed to do so.

"If they had, we believe, they would have found the cracks that caused this explosion," Silverstein said. "They would have prevented this horrible incident from ever happening."

The article continues: "All seven workers who died had been standing near the exchangers. They were there in part, Silverstein said, because Tesoro had been unable in recent years to stop the equipment from leaking volatile, flammable gases.

So employees were positioned around the machinery in hard hats, gloves and goggles with 'steam lances' — long tubes — they used to disperse the vapors. They also had to manually adjust valves during startup to make sure leaks didn't get out of control."

Tragically, that was their final day at work.

As you can see, the two fatal workplace incidents occurred six months ago and two years ago, respectively. But the repercussions of each incident were revealed to the world again within this past week. Such repercussions will never go away, nor should they. For the safety of human life, these are two lessons from history people should never forget.

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posted by Daniel E
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