Last year, a flash fire at an Alabama car dealership in Jasper killed one employee and severely injured several others. What caused that fire? Flammable chemicals being stored improperly. After the flash fire, OSHA inspected the dealership and issued several serious citations for improperly storing a flammable chemical in a dangerous location. Plus, OSHA cited the dealership for not even developing a hazard communication program for its dangerous chemicals.
For the families of these dealership employees, no penalty or punishment will ever restore their loved ones. Hopefully, OSHA’s action will spur other local companies to take needed safety steps.
Does your workplace handle chemicals safely? For me, the question is front and center. Why? I’ve spent several days this month in deposition over a Huntsville injury case involving the issue.
The morning of her accident, my client woke up healthy. She went to work normally, just like the rest of us. She did her job correctly. Yet, another person from a different company chose to spray a dangerous chemical into the air around her. That’s how so many serious injuries occur — You were doing the right thing when someone else acted negligently or recklessly and caused an accident.
The chemicals in my client’s case had some pretty simple warnings and directions. Move all people out of the area before spraying. Use a respirator or mask if you must be in the area. Simple. Yet, ignored. Without warning, my client found herself in a room surrounded by a chemical fog. Nobody moved her from the area. In seconds she went from normal to gasping for air. She now suffers permanent lung and breathing issues.
This is not my first workplace chemical exposure case. It probably won’t be my last. All of them share a very common factor — Simple safety rules and directions were not followed. Most of the time, the company responsible for the chemicals put production over safety. For example, in my recent case, the employee who sprayed the chemical had been assigned so many “accounts” there was no possible way he could safely service all his customers. His employer gave him no time to stop and ensure each site was safe before spraying. He was rushing to finish his assigned task so he could move to the next. My client paid a heavy price.
What is a hazard communication program? In the Jasper auto dealer fire, OSHA specifically cited the employer for NOT having such a program. In the chemical exposure cases I’ve handled, a genuine hazard communication program would have prevented the accidents. So, what is this program? OSHA requires employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces to implement a hazard communication program. It’s not a complicated standard. The program must simply include labels on containers of hazardous chemicals, safety data sheets for hazardous chemicals and training for workers. A simple program of warning and training can prevent many needless injuries and deaths.