Employers Should Expect Powerful Consequences for Gas Explosion Accidents

On Monday of this week, OSHA announced it issued 13 citations to a Mississippi producer of fish oil and fish products for “willful, repeated and serious safety violations” that culminated in a compressed gas explosion that killed one worker and seriously injured another in the summer of 2014.

The victims of the explosion were temporary employees who had not been told that the storage tank near their work area was filled with potentially explosive gases. Importantly, OSHA also found that the workers had not received any training.

In addition to the citing the fish oil company, OSHA also cited the metal fabricator contracted to erect a wastewater storage tank, the temporary agency that hired out the two employees, and an industrial service and repair company that was working on-site the day of the explosion.

This decision establishes OSHA’s willingness to hold temporary employment agencies liable when workers are injured or killed — and/or when workers do not receive proper training. In addition, it demonstrates a willingness to cite ancillary entities that are present during an accident but not directly involved.

“If the employer [had] ensured a safe environment, this tragic incident could have been prevented,” said OSHA area director Eugene Stewart in a news release.

OSHA mandates that employees working with or around compressed gases be trained on related hazards including oxygen displacement, fires, explosion, toxic gas exposures, and physical high pressure hazards.

Many compressed gases are flammable or explosive. The two involved in this accident—methane and hydrogen sulfide—are both. Hydrogen sulfide is also poisonous. Many compressed gases are also heavier than air, meaning that they can collect in low areas, and create a “gas trail” that will lead back to and ignite the storage cylinder if put into contact with flame.

Employers should be prepared for OSHA to level citations and penalties related to these sorts of events,  and should cover their bases, and protect their employees by ensuring all workers on site are properly trained.

MSDSonline’s catalog of on-demand workplace trainings offers nearly 100 regularly-updated and expert-reviewed courses on EHS issues vital to employees, including training on compressed gases and the prevention of accidents resulting from gas explosions. The module Compressed Gases provides safety training to help both employers and employees control the physical and health hazards associated with compressed gases. It includes information everyone needs to know about how to work safely with and around compressed gases.

For more information about the Compressed Gases module, or other courses in MSDSonline’s suite of online training solutions, visit our workplace training course library here.