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Forklift operators suffer severe burns in workplace accident

Forklift operators face many dangerous situations on a daily basis. Employers are expected to ensure that workers are aware of potential hazards and emergency procedures in the event of a workplace accident. Workers are often instructed to operate these dangerous industrial machines in confined spaces where deadly gases and fumes can become trapped. Not only do such surroundings pose suffocation hazards, but gas vapors can ignite, leading to severe burn injuries. Four workers were the victims of such a workplace accident that occurred in August of last year in Missouri.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently completed an investigation into that accident and cited the company for willful and serious violations. The company, with its main office in another state, operates a trucking terminal in Missouri. The incident report states that one experienced and one inexperienced forklift operator were operating a forklift powered by propane in the confined space of a freight trailer. When the propane tank had to be replaced, the workers exchanged the tank in the unventilated confined space.

An improper coupling connection apparently allowed some of the dangerous liquid propane gas to leak and vaporize, causing a flash fire that set the workers alight. Both workers suffered critical burn injuries, and, while trying to extinguish the flames on their clothing, a co-worker also suffered burn injuries. The fire was fierce enough to also burn another forklift operator in the vicinity. OSHA found that switching or mounting propane containers in unventilated, confined areas, along with the improper coupling procedures, indicated that proper training was not provided as required. In addition, workers were not provided with eye and hand protection, and the hazardous chemicals were not appropriately labeled.

According to safety regulations, company owners have to ensure workplace surroundings are free of known hazards. By disregarding the fundamental regulations related to hazardous chemicals, these four Illinois workers were victims of a workplace accident that may be life changing. Recuperation after suffering severe burn injuries may take some time, during which a worker may experience anxiety about his or her inability to provide for his or her family. Fortunately, workers' compensation benefits may provide some level of financial relief in the form of compensation for medical costs and loss of wages.

Source: ehstoday.com, "OSHA Fines Saia Motor Freight Line after Explosion Injures Four Workers", Ginger Christ, Feb. 10, 2015

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