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.
The company that runs the plant, working with investigators, is still trying to figure out exactly what caused the blast, but even at this early stage it is all but certain that industrial accident questions are likely to be on the investigators’ agenda. Under Oregon law an industrial accident occurs not only when a company fails to maintain its equipment or to properly train its workers in how to use it. In legal terms Industrial accidents can also be traced back to the manufacturers of that equipment if it can be shown that they failed to manufacture a safe product or to offer appropriate advice and training to people installing the finished product. Thus it will be important for investigators of this gas explosion to look not only at the plant itself and how it was run, but at the equipment used to operate it, the instructions that came with that equipment when it was purchased or upgraded and the support and training offered by the vendors after installation.
As an Oregon and Washington industrial accident lawyer I will be paying close attention to the aftermath of this incident and how the investigation develops. It is important for the populations of Plymouth and Hermiston to know that the major industrial facilities in and near their communities are operated and maintained in a safe and lawful manner.