Articles Posted in Industrial Accidents

A recent Associated Press article republished by The Oregonian reported that Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Division has fined a Salem company and the Oregon Department of Transportation for separate incidents that led to worker deaths. The deaths raise both possible Oregon wrongful death and employment liability law issues but, more immediately, leave open questions about the effectiveness of OSHA’s fines themselves.

According to the news agency, citing the East Oregonian newspaper, OSHA fined a Salem-based concrete company “$840 for not ensuring safe work conditions, which led to the death” of a 64-year old man employed by the company. “The company was installing rumble strips at the paving project on Interstate 84 west of Boardman when (he) was run over by a pickup towing equipment operated by another employee.”

The agency also fined the state transportation agency $3500 over the death of a highway maintenance crew member who was “paving Highway 320 when a dump truck backed up and ran over him.”

The Oregonian is reporting that a fire this week at the Western Star truck factory on Swan Island caused over half a million dollars in damage and has slowed production at the facility. As details of the blaze emerge, it is also becoming apparent that the incident raises significant employment liability law issues and may also merit investigation as a possible Oregon industrial accident.

According to the newspaper, “the fire started when sparks created by an employee grinding near the plant’s paint booth ignited flammable liquids in the area. The fire bypassed the sprinkler system and spread to the ceiling.”

Here in Oregon an employment liability law claim can be brought against employers who fail to install or properly maintain safety equipment or who don’t give employees the safety training they need to carry out their jobs. Based on the media reports about this factory fire several of these conditions ought at least to be open to examination. Why were flammable materials anywhere near the place where an employee was doing a job that produces sparks? How was it that a fire moving along the ceiling failed to trigger the sprinkler system? Was there flammable residue on the ceiling itself that helped spread the fire and, if so, how did it get there? These questions raise issues related to both training and maintenance procedures at the plant and all need to be examined closely in the days and weeks to come.

Investigators from Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration are looking into a possible Oregon industrial accident that claimed the life of a Scappoose woman on Thanksgiving Day.

According to a report in The Oregonian the 43-year-old woman “died Thursday afternoon in an explosion that investigators believe was started by sparks from a metal grinder at an industrial work site.” The fact that, according to the local sheriff’s office, the site of the accident was being leased by a trucking company from a third party may prove to be significant in determining whether this incident meets the legal definition of an Oregon industrial accident.

Third-party liability is often overlooked in reporting on incidents like this, but is important nonetheless. Under Oregon law a company or a property owner’s duty to provide a safe workplace extends to sub-contractors as well as its employees. While we obviously cannot draw any firm conclusions based solely on the short piece in The Oregonian, it will be important for OOSHA investigators and, in turn, the courts to consider where ultimate responsibility for this fatal accident may lie.

The death this week of a 33-year-old Mill City man is being investigated by the sheriff’s office in Linn County but, based on a report in the Salem Statesman-Journal, there are strong indications that it fits the definition of an Oregon industrial accident.

As I wrote in this space just a few days ago, the lumber industry has one of the highest rates of workplace fatalities here in a state where workplace deaths rose last year, even as they declined nationwide. According to the Statesman-Journal this particular accident took place on Wednesday in Mill City. The victim is reported to have been at work in a lumber mill “repairing a wood press when it activated and crushed him.”

“Police are investigating the situation along with the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA,” according to the newspaper. One of the things they will surely look at is whether this fatality should be classified as an Oregon industrial accident. Oregon law requires that machinery, particularly potentially dangerous machinery, be serviced properly and that workers operating and maintaining it have proper training. It is disturbing to read that a wood press activated at a point when it should not have been connected to a power supply at all. In lumber mills and other potentially dangerous workplaces proper “Lockout/Tagout” procedures, like those outlined by the US Department of Labor (see this link) are essential. Rules like this do not represent onerous government regulation but, rather, are essential safety measures designed to protect workers from employers who might be tempted to cut corners to put a few extra dollars onto the bottom line.

A significant case involving alleged negligence leading to an industrial accident became more serious last week when obstruction of justice charges were added to it, according to the Associated Press. The news agency reports that a San Francisco-based “federal grand jury charged Pacific Gas & Electric… with lying to federal investigators in connection with a fatal pipeline explosion that killed eight people and leveled a suburban Northern California neighborhood in 2010.”

The AP reports that the new charge sheet lists a total of 28 counts against the utility giant, replacing an earlier indictment containing only 12 charges. It accuses PG&E of “lying to National Transportation Safety Board investigators after the blast.” In particular, it alleges that the company sought to mislead government officials about “pipeline testing and maintenance procedures.” A spokesman for PG&E told AP that he had not yet seen the charges, but that the company was expecting them. The company disputes the allegations.

If these charges are proven they reflect about as clear a case of bad corporate citizenship as one could imagine. Lying to federal investigators not before but after the company’s negligence has led to the deaths of eight people gives new meaning to the idea of putting profits before people. Righting wrongs like this is why we have an independent court system.

Following up on a blog I posted a few days ago concerning Oregon industrial accidents, it is my happy duty to report a significant sign of progress both for public safety and for the public’s right to know.

Wednesday evening The Oregonian reported that “the owner of the oil train terminal near Clatskanie (will) begin requiring safer tanker cars to deliver oil to the facility starting June 1.” Regular readers will recall that just a few days ago I wrote about a reversal of policy by the Oregon Department of Transportation. After The Oregonian won a court case seeking access to documents that rail companies are required to file regarding hazardous shipments, the ODOT initially announced it would no longer collect this information, on the grounds that it was now public. As I reported a few days ago, the agency reversed that policy under pressure from the Governor, the media and, most importantly, the public.

Today, it is good to report that the owners of a major oil terminal will require higher safety standards for shipments passing through their facility. While there is no way to link this directly to the events of the past week, it is always good to welcome a victory for the public’s right to know and, more broadly, for public safety.

In a reversal that highlights the power of public opinion, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is backtracking on a plan to stop receiving reports on hazardous materials shipments that it is supposed to be regulating.

According to an article published in The Oregonian earlier this week ODOT had planned “to stop asking railroads for annual reports showing where crude oil moves in the state… because The Oregonian successfully sought to have them made public.” In other words, because a newspaper successfully argues that Oregonians have a right to know about hazardous materials being shipped through our state the state agency charged with regulating that industry planned to stop collecting the reports – reports which are required by law.

At the risk of stating the obvious, hazardous materials shipments are inherently risky. The possibility of an Oregon industrial accident as a result of negligence or improper training or procedures anywhere along a long chain of suppliers and hundreds of miles of railway track is significant. That is why ODOT is supposed to be regulating hazardous materials shipments: to exercise government’s function as the people’s representative in the interests of public health and safety. After the backlash prompted by the announcement the newspaper quotes ODOT director Matt Garrett acknowledging “in an interview that ODOT needed to begin fulfilling its duty as the state’s rail safety regulator to protect Oregonians, not the companies it oversees.”

Residents of Plymouth, Washington and neighboring Hermiston, Oregon were greeted this morning by what the Associated Press described as “a mushroom cloud of black smoke visible for more than a mile.”

The cause was an explosion at a natural gas plant on the Washington side of the Columbia River. The news agency reports that the blast injured four workers at the plant and forced “about 400 people to evacuate from nearby farms and homes.” It quotes local law enforcement officials blaming the incident on a gas leak.

While it is certainly true that the incident could have been much, much worse – “I think if one of those huge tanks had exploded, it might have been a different story,” the AP quotes the local sheriff saying – the accident still raises worrisome questions about Oregon and Washington industrial accidents and about the overall quality of the safety procedures at this and similar facilities.

With the holiday season now in full swing, a recent Associated Press article, republished in The Oregonian, highlighted both the importance of the Christmas tree industry to our local economy and the importance of workplace safety.

The Salem-datelined piece begins with the image of 50,000 freshly cut Christmas trees stacked in a Polk County loading area near Dallas, Oregon. “Some 200 workers are busy at the site,” the news agency notes. “Tree after tree is placed on mechanical shakers to remove loose needles, run through bailing machines and wrapped with twine, tossed on a conveyer belt and, finally, loaded into trucks.”

Oregon is the country’s top grower of Christmas Trees, producing a stunning 6.4 million during last year’s holiday season. While Christmas tree harvesting is significantly different from the larger, year-round lumber industry it is still dangerous work – involving, as the article indicates, potentially dangerous machinery operated in the open, including chainsaws.

Many of us have walked through traveling carnivals and probably had the same thought: exactly how safe and well-maintained are these fairground rides that spend much of the year being hauled from one county fair to the next?

For a group of parents in Connecticut this weekend that question became all too real when, according to the Associated Press “thirteen children were injured when a festival attraction that swings riders into the air lost power” Sunday afternoon. The news agency quotes the police chief of Norwalk, Connecticut estimating “that some children fell between 10 and 15 feet to the ground while some others hit riders and some others hit the ride itself.” Though none of the injuries appear to be life-threatening, one child was reported to have been bleeding from the head at the scene. A dozen children and one adult were treated at a local hospital following the accident, though only one child required overnight hospitalization.

A follow-up story filed by the news agency reports that the ride itself is now being taken apart in an effort to pinpoint the cause of the accident. What is known right now, according to AP, is that something caused the ride to freeze suddenly.

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