In the early hours of Friday, January 24th, an industrial workplace accident startled thousands of Houstonians from their sleep. Residents woke to a roaring explosion originating from Watson Grinding & Manufacturing in Northwest Houston. The explosion, which was caused by propylene gas, claimed the lives of two employees and injured several other workers. The explosion marks the third serious workplace accident since 2015 at Watson Grinding & Manufacturing.
Nearby homes and businesses were not immune to the blast, which was felt by Houstonians as far as 14 miles away. At least 450 structures were either destroyed or damaged as a result of the explosion.
Houstonians have become all too familiar with industrial explosions and fires. A petrochemical terminal, Intercontinental Terminals Co. (ITC), caught fire in spring of 2019 and burned for days and caused air pollution across the city of Houston. One does not have to go back much further to discover another workplace accident involving an explosion or fire. Not even two years ago, nearly two-dozen workers were injured during explosion at a plastic fabrication company.
Taking Workplace Fire Safety Seriously
Houston workers are no strangers to dangerous occupations, as the city is home to the largest port in the nation and second largest in the world. Houston is also home to numerous industries that require skilled industrial and construction laborers. With the dominating oil and gas industry, construction demand, manufacturing plants, refineries and more, it’s hard to deter employees from occupations based on potential dangers.
Employers who purposefully implement and actively maintain federal fire safety guidelines and regulations could tremendously decrease the potential for workplace fires. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates fires and explosions kill an average of 200 workers annually and injure more than 5,000 workers across all industries, with construction yielding the greatest number.
Common causes of workplace fires and explosions include:
- Flammable and combustible liquids
- Compressed gas cylinders
- Chemical tanks/drums
- Liquefied petroleum gas
- Explosive and blasting agents
- Temporary heating devices
- Heavy machinery
- Electric machinery malfunctions
When a conscious employer routinely inspects heavy equipment and machinery, the chances of catching a mechanical error increases while the potential dangers a worker could come in contact with decreases.
Eliminating Fire Risks
As stated above, participating and abiding by fire safety guidelines is necessary for maintaining a safe workplace. While federal safety regulations are in place, they are only as effective as their implementation. Employers have a responsibility to keep their employees’ safe while on the job and vice versa; employees have a responsibility to speak out against unsafe working conditions. Employees have the right to report employers who fail to comply with safety standards, putting workers at risk, without facing retaliation. OSHA outlines the following regulations employers must follow to be in compliance with federal safety standards:
General Duty Law
Employers must provide employees with a safe workspace free of hazards that could potentially kill or injure them. While OSHA cannot address all known workplace hazards, it can blanket them under this general safety rule.
Fire Prevention Plan
Employers must provide a plan for employees in case of a fire emergency. The plan should outline necessary action for reporting the emergency, an evacuation route, accounting for all employees in the case of an evacuation, and how to perform medical or rescue duties should the need arise. Employers should provide fire prevention equipment throughout the worksite, including fire extinguishers. It is also imperative to regularly inspect them.
Emergency Action Plan
In addition to the general duty law, employers must develop and adopt an emergency action plan for all employees. The plan should include procedures for reporting emergencies, an outlined evacuation route, a process for employees post-evacuation, and medical and rescue duties.
Houston Refinery Explosion Attorneys
Employers who fail to meet safety standards are knowingly putting their workers in danger and should be held liable for the harm caused by their negligence. When workplace injuries happen, it is common for employers to deny culpability, offer a low settlement, or refuse to offer any compensation at all. Texas workers and their loved ones deserve an attorney who will right for their rights and for full compensation for their injuries, lost wages, and other damages. Contact our experienced refinery injury attorneys today for your free consultation.