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.
As a Portland employment liability attorney I look at situations like this and am reminded why we need laws to protect the health and safety of both workers and of people who live near industrial facilities. A company’s bottom line should never be padded at the expense of its employees or the wider community.
On a side note, it is also a little shocking to see the paper quoting a company spokesman saying that “idled employees can use sick leave or vacation days to continue to be paid as clean-up continues.” The paper notes that “normal operations could resume Thursday” but it seems rather petty of the company to dock the pay of workers who are unable to do their jobs because the company’s sprinkler system failed to function properly. This, too, is a reminder of the important role our courts play in ensuring fairness in employer-employee relations.