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Propane Tank Explosion Causes Injury to a Massachusetts Worker

In March, a propane tank that could hold about 1000 gallons of fuel exploded at a glass-bottling plant in Milford. A fifty-five year old plant employee who was transferring propane from the tank of a forklift outside the plant was sent to the hospital with first-degree burns. He was the only person by the tank at the time of the explosion.

The resulting fire blazed for an hour before firefighters got it under control. The cause of the fire is unknown, but the Deputy Fire Chief speculated it was the result of a static spark. Common injuries that result from gas explosions like this one are first-degree burns to those workers who are standing nearby, as well as injuries from the flying shrapnel and debris that can hit workers who are standing further away.

More than 600,000 propane-fueled forklifts are in operation at manufacturing plants, warehouses, and distribution centers around the nation. Employers prefer them because they maintain 100% power while operated and are faster than forklifts that are fueled with other energy sources. Forklift operators should be trained in how to refuel propane-fueled forklifts according to applicable OSHA standards. One such standard is OSHA Standard 1910.178.

OSHA regulation 1910.178(l)(1)(i) requires that:

“The employer shall ensure that each powered industrial truck operator is competent to operate a powered industrial truck safely, as demonstrated by the successful completion of the training and evaluation specified in this paragraph (l).”

According to the regulations, forklift trainers should train workers using a combination of formal lessons, such as lectures, videotapes, or written material, plus practical training, such as demonstrations, and evaluation of how the forklift operator handles a forklift in the workplace.

OSHA has a number of other rules relating to propane. Among the OSHA rules is that gases must be odorized. That means a detectable odor has been added to the gas so that someone can smell it in the air. Propane cylinders must be marked with specific information that allows employees to identify what it is and whether it can be used above ground. Usually propane cylinders must be left outside of a building, but this isn’t necessary if the building is exclusively for the purpose of charging containers, reducing vapor pressure, mixing gas, manufacturing gas, or distributing gas.

Construction is one of the top five industries in which injuries, such as the gas explosion described above, occur. Construction-related injuries are among the most common workers’ compensation cases in Massachusetts and construction is considered a high hazard industry. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2007 construction industry workers suffered 135,350 injuries and illnesses.

Gas explosions are not the only type of injury to result from forklift use. Other injuries include tip-overs that are caused by loads that are in excess of what is appropriate, injuries resulting from problems with visibility as a result of a load or the vehicle itself, and collisions that result from rear steering and swinging wide.

If you have suffered an injury in the workplace, we can help you resolve the legal issues that arise in this context, so that you can rest and recover. If you are concerned about your employer’s workers’ compensation coverage, ask the experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys at Kantrovitz & Associates what you should do. Call us at 617-367-0880 or contact us via our online form.

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