In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), regulates and investigates workplace safety. Most countries have their equivalent of OSHA which works in a similar manner. OSHA may conduct random checks, follow up on registered complaints or investigate accidents involving the safety of workers. When OSHA visits a facility, they have a broad scope of regulations they monitor or review to determine safety. If they happen to come out to investigate an incident, they are not limited to any specific concern. If they come across other safety concerns, it becomes part of their investigation. Any violations can be added to the initial investigation, and the employer can be held accountable. If OSHA visits, you want to have your basic safety plans and workplace safety rules in place to lessen any regulatory impact.
In 2019 There was a fire and explosion at a marine terminal in South Carolina. The explosion involved cylinders within a vehicle. The fire and resulting explosion injured a worker and destroyed the vehicle. Due to an injured worker OSHA opened an investigation. It is unknown if an exact cause of the explosion was determined, but OSHA found numerous violations leading up to the explosion.
- Looking within the vehicle they found it full of combustible items. They listed items such as rags, food, plastic bags and cardboard.
- They stated there were high pressure cylinders within the vehicle for 4 days. They were not in use and their valves were open. They also stated the gas cylinders were a cause of the explosion.
- They listed that employees were not properly trained. Specifically, a forklift operator did not have the proper training documentation. It is unknown if the forklift operator had any involvement with the resulting explosion.
When reading such reports, it is difficult to get specific information. Most of the data is broad and vague. However, even with limited information, we can learn from these incidents. In this specific case OSHA found issues with an unsafe/unclean workspace leading to the explosion, cylinders failing to be stored properly and a facility failing to train employees. Combining these issues OSHA compiled a total fine of $26,520. And, Sadly, these issues could have been easily prevented.
Knowing that you have industrial gases, including oxygen, in a workspace, the technicians must keep combustible materials away. Storing debris, such as rags, outside of designed storage containers should alert employees to clean up the debris. Even without an industrial gas in the area, all work spaces should be free of hazards which could injure an employee. That could include something as simple as a tripping hazard.
If you do have industrial gases, not in use, they should be secured and have protective caps in place. Employees need to be trained that the cap itself will not protect the employee from leaking gases, it only protects the valve if the cylinder falls. The employee should be trained to check or test a valve to ensure it is in proper working order. It needs to contain the gas in the cylinder. If it is working properly, ensure it is closed when not in use. If it is not working properly, notify the appropriate cylinder safety technician.
Finally, document all employee training and keep the training documents within the employee files. Training needs to be more than a check on a piece of paper. Having a training program, with documentation, showing that the employee has been trained and tested will ensure compliance with government safety regulations. If you do not have a documented program, then a piece of paper may not be enough to protect your facility from a hefty fine.
Keeping an area clean with properly stored cylinders may have prevented this accident which injured an employee and cost the company over $26,000. Preventing an injury may keep OSHA away and prevent them from asking about employee training records. Training employees about the reasons to keep a workplace clean, and safety equipment being maintained on a cylinder can save lives and maintain profitability.