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“New NFPA Video Underscores Long-Lasting Realities Of Home Fire Survivors”

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On average, there are nearly 13,000 civilian fire injuries attributed to home fires each year.

In cooperation with the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, NFPA has produced a new video underscoring the painful aftermath of these injuries. Burn care specialists from the William Randolph Hearst Burn Center, one of the premier burn care hospitals in the U.S., detail the frequency of home fire injuries and painstaking recovery of burn survivors. Their stories help underscore the arduous recovery and procedures survivors endure post-fire.

The video is the latest produced for NFPA’s Faces of Fire Campaign, a component of NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative that helps humanize North America’s home fire problem and highlights the necessity of fire sprinklers in new homes. We will be releasing a second video from our interviews with the William Randolph Hearst Burn Center specialists in the next few weeks and will alert you when it’s available.

Please help us spread the word about this important video by: 
Sharing the video link directly on social media

Embedding the video directly on a web page [use this code: http://a%20class=]

Source: NFPA Xchange By:  Fred Durso on Jan 4, 2017

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“Oakland Warehouse Dance Party Fire a Rare Disaster, But Troubling Trend Continues”

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In this age of modern building construction and fire codes, large loss-of-life fires in assembly occupancies just aren’t supposed to happen. But, for some reason, they continue to. I noticed a trend following The Station fire; I thought to myself, “Seems like it’s been about ten years since we’ve seen a fire like this.” I was close; it was 13 years.

The trend started with the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire in Southgate, KY, which killed 165 people in 1977. Thirteen years later, in 1990, 87 people died in a fire at the Bronx, NY Happy Land social club. Another thirteen years later, in 2003, The Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, RI, killed 100.

And here we are, thirteen years later, counting the dead in an electronic dance music party fire at a warehouse turned artist collective/residence/performance space in Oakland, CA known as “Ghost Ship;” the death toll currently stands at 36 and is expected to rise.

NFPA president Jim Pauley spoke to the New York Times about the role fire codes have played in making fires, such as the one that occurred Friday night, rare occurrences. There is no question that codes have come a long way over the last 40 or so years, and if they’re followed, the probability that a fire will have such devastating consequences is low. Today’s codes, like NFPA 101, require automatic sprinkler systems, fire alarm systems, and multiple, protected means of egress from large assembly spaces. (News outlets report the Oakland warehouse was not sprinklered, and means of egress from the second-floor assembly space was limited to a single stair; it is still very early in the investigation.)

So the question we, as fire protection and life safety professionals, must ask is, “Are we doing enough to prevent these tragedies?” Do the codes, as they stand today, provide a “reasonable” level of protection? If we do nothing, is it reasonable to expect that in thirteen years we will see another tragedy like the one this past weekend? Maybe it will be eight years, maybe eleven, but I think the answer is, “most likely.” The alternative is to do “something.” I don’t know what that “something” is. Do we pile more requirements onto the codes, effectively penalizing those who diligently comply with the requirements already on the books? And how effective would new requirements be? If building owners aren’t complying with today’s requirements, should we expect them to comply with new ones? What about enforcement? I know very well the budget constraints faced by municipal fire departments. State and local fire prevention agencies do tremendous work with their limited resources. It’s probably not reasonable to expect code enforcers to catch every illegal large assembly gathering.

The answer eludes me. And it’s troubling. I recently became the staff liaison for NFPA’s Technical Committee on Assembly Occupancies, so this hits close to home. It’s my hope to get the conversation going so we can put an end to this trend. Or we can carry on, status-quo. If we do, history suggests we’ll see another large loss-of-life assembly occupancy fire. Probably in about 13 years, around 2029. I hope I’m wrong.

Source: by Gregory Harrington NFPA xChange

“U.S. Chemical Safety Board Releases New Safety Video, “Dangerously Close: Explosion in West, Texas,” Detailing Report Findings and Recommendations on 2013 Fatal West Fertilizer Company Explosion and Fire “

January 29, 2016, Washington, DC – Today the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released a safety video into the fatal April 17, 2013, fire and explosion at the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas, which resulted in 15 fatalities, more than 260 injuries, and widespread community damage. The deadly fire and explosion occurred when about thirty tons of fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate (FGAN) exploded after being heated by a fire at the storage and distribution facility.

The CSB’s newly released 12-minute safety video entitled, “Dangerously Close: Explosion in West, Texas,” includes a 3D animation of the fire and explosion as well as interviews with CSB investigators and Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland. The video can be viewed above or on the CSB’s website and YouTube.

Chairperson Sutherland said, “This tragic accident should not have happened. We hope that this video, by sharing lessons learned from our West Fertilizer Company investigation, will help raise awareness of the hazards of fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate so that a similar accident can be avoided in the future.”

The CSB’s investigation found that several factors contributed to the severity of the explosion, including poor hazard awareness and fact that nearby homes and business were built in close proximity to the West Fertilizer Company over the years prior to the accident. The video explains that there was a stockpile of 40 to 60 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at the facility in plywood bins on the night of the explosion. And although FGAN is stable under normal conditions, it can violently detonate when exposed to contaminants in a fire.

In the video, Team Lead Johnnie Banks says, “We found that as the city of West crept closer and closer to the facility, the surrounding community was not made aware of the serious explosion hazard in their midst. And the West Fertilizer Company underestimated the danger of storing fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate in ordinary combustible structures.”

The CSB investigation concludes that this lack of awareness was due to several factors, including gaps in federal regulatory coverage of ammonium nitrate storage facilities. The video details safety recommendations made to OSHA and the EPA to strengthen their regulations to protect the public from hazards posed by FGAN.

Finally, the video explains how inadequate emergency planning contributed to the tragic accident. The CSB found that the West Volunteer Fire Department was not required to perform pre-incident planning for an ammonium nitrate-related emergency, nor were the volunteer firefighters required to attend training on responding to fires involving hazardous chemicals. As a result, the CSB made several safety recommendations to various stakeholders, including the EPA, to better inform and train emergency responders on the hazards of FGAN and other hazardous chemicals.

Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland said, “The CSB’s goal is to ensure that no one else be killed or injured due to a lack of awareness of hazardous chemicals in their communities. If adopted, the Board’s recommendations can help prevent disasters like the one in West, Texas.”

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents. The agency’s board members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems. The Board does not issue citations or fines but makes safety recommendations to companies, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Please visit our website, www.csb.gov

For more information, contact Communications Manager Hillary Cohen at public@csb.gov or by phone at 202.446.8095.

 

“St. Anne, Illinois Couple Markets “#Krusepak”, A New Firefighter’s Air Pack Aid As Seen On NBC’s Chicago Fire TV Series” #NBCChicagoFire

   

  
Trevor Allen and battalion chief Dave Ciarrocchi chief listen as Tiffany and Dave Kruse demonstrate the capabilities of the ‘Krusepak’. Dave Kruse, a Kankakee Fire Department lieutenant, developed the invention to assist his fellow firefighters.

By:Dennis Yohnka
dyohnka@daily-journal.com
815-937-3384 | 4/20/2015

You can’t draw a straight line from a firefighter’s death in North Carolina to a St. Anne family that can’t afford a vacation, and onto the set of the TV show “Chicago Fire.”

Those unlikely scenes, though, are part of the personal history David and Tiffany Kruse, of St. Anne, are offering as they explain the evolution of an idea. It’s a brainstorm that might become one of the firefighting industry’s most unexpected success stories.

“I first had this idea back in 2011, but I thought it was just a pipe dream,” David said. He was referring to his plan for a specially-designed strap that would allow firefighters to carry extra air tanks as they entered a smokey building. Under physical stress, a single tank will last only 12 to 17 minutes. Having a handy spare, while keeping the firefighters’ hands free, could be the difference between life and death.

“I read the report of that fire captain in North Carolina. He died in a fire in a five-story medical building,” he said. “The smoke got heavy on the third floor. They had to get to the fifth floor. He ran out of air.”

After two prototypes, the Kruses found a concept they could market. They started the expensive process to obtain a patent, and began the painfully sluggish journey to firehouse acceptance.

“The slowness discourages him,” Tiffany said. “In some cases we have to get approved vendor status, and that takes time. In other cases things can move faster than we imagine.”

For example, the Chicago Fire Department has yet to approve purchases of what has been labeled the Krusepak. Meanwhile, on the set of Chicago Fire, the new gear has made its way into three episodes, with a fourth coming out in May.

“They were even going to use the name, Krusepak, in the script,” Tiffany added. “But there’s a character on the show named ‘Cruz,’ so they thought it might be confusing.”

Maybe the TV appearance sparked extra interest, but the Kruses are getting calls now from as far away as Japan. Departments — including those in Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles County — are checking out demo units. Several area departments and South Suburban stations are already using the Krusepaks, including Kankakee City, where David has worked for the past 13 years.

“I’m working full time there, and I have some shifts in Monee,” said David, 37. “So, I see the family just about every day, but I don’t have a lot of time to get out and market this.”

“And I feel like a single mom, sometimes, but I’m working on getting the demos out and filling orders, and planning our booth,” Tiffany said, referring to a major firefighters conference coming up in Indianapolis.

With legal costs for the patent now exceeding $25,000, and a $5,000 check needed to reserve the booth at Indy, the Kruses are hoping for some financial rewards down the road.

“Right now, I’m sure the mortgage company is worried about their payment,” she said. “We’ve put our life savings into this. This is getting a little stressful.”

“Really, though, this [product development] ride has been fantastic. It’s something most people will never do,” David said. “I’m lucky: I really enjoy working with my wife on this. And I totally believe that we’re going to succeed, if we keep working on it.”

That workload includes expanding the uses for the Krusepak. While it was initially thought of as a tool for working high-rise fires, it’s being used by rural departments, too. It facilitates bringing extra equipment to a fire that requires a long walk to the site. The Krusepak also adapts for use in auto and truck extrications, scuba rescues and other circumstances.

“I remember thinking this whole idea is too easy. It’s too simple,” David said. “But I’ve done a lot of research and there’s nothing out there like this out there.”

Read the rest of the story here: http://www.daily-journal.com/news/local/st-anne-couple-markets-new-firefighters-aid/article_0ff3951b-052a-5e9d-9515-5f3097fb5b18.html?mode=jqm

Source: The Daily Journal, Kankakee, Illinois. 

“CSB Names Poor Design and Failure to Test Dust Collection System Among Causes of U.S. Ink New Jersey Flash Fire that Burned Seven Workers in 2012; OSHA Again Urged to Issue New Combustible Dust Regulations”

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OSHA Again Urged to Issue New Combustible Dust Regulations  

East Rutherford, New Jersey, January 15, 2015—The flash fire that burned seven workers, one seriously, at a U.S. Ink plant in New Jersey in 2012 resulted from the accumulation of combustible dust inside a poorly designed dust collection system that had been put into operation only four days before the accident, an View of Dust Collector at US Ink investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has found.

In a report released today and scheduled to be presented for board consideration at a CSB public meeting in East Rutherford this evening, the investigation team concludes that the system was so flawed it only took a day to accumulate enough combustible dust and hydrocarbons in the duct work to overheat, ignite spontaneously, cause an explosion in the rooftop dust collector, and send back a fiery flash that enveloped seven workers.

U.S. Ink is a subsidiary of Sun Chemical, a global graphic arts corporation which has some 9,000 employees worldwide. U.S. Ink manufactures black and color-based inks at seven U.S. locations including East Rutherford. A key step in the ink production process is mixing fine particulate solids, such as pigments and binders, with liquid oils in agitated tanks.

CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said, “The findings presented in the CSB report under consideration show that neither U.S. Ink nor its international parent company, Sun Chemical, performed a thorough hazard analysis, study, or testing of the system before it was commissioned in early October 2012. The original design was changed, the original company engineer retired prior to completion of the project, and no testing was done in the days before the operation of the black-ink pre-mixing room production was started up.”

The CSB found that the ductwork conveyed combustible, condensable vapors above each of three tanks in the mixing room, combining with combustible particles of dust of carbon black and Gilsonite used in the production of black ink.

Investigation Supervisor Johnnie Banks said, “The closed system air flow was insufficient to keep dust and sludge from accumulating inside the air ducts.  But to make matters worse, the new dust collector design included three vacuuming hoses which were attached to the closed-system ductwork, used to pick up accumulated dust, dirt and other material from the facility’s floor and other level surfaces as a ‘housekeeping’ measure.  The addition of these contaminants to the system ductwork doomed it to be plugged within days of startup.”

The report describes a dramatic series of events that took place within minutes on October 9, 2012.  About 1 p.m., an operator was loading powdered Gilsonite, a combustible carbon-containing mineral, into the bag dump station near the pre-mixing room when he heard what he called a strange, squealing sound.  He checked some gauges in the control room, and as he was leaving he saw a flash fire originating from the bag dump where he had just been working.  He left to notify his supervisor.  At about that same time, other workers heard a loud thump that shook the building.

In response to the flash from the bag dump station and the thump, workers congregated at the entrance to the pre-mix room.  One worker spotted flames coming from one of the tanks.  He obtained a fire extinguisher but before he could use it, he saw an orange fireball erupt and advance toward him.  He squeezed the handle on the extinguisher as he jumped from some stairs, just as the flames engulfed him and six other employees who were standing in the doorway.

The CSB determined that overheating and spontaneous ignition which likely caused the initial flash fire at the bag dump was followed by ignition of accumulated sludge-like material and powdery dust mixture of Gilsonite and carbon black in the duct work above tank 306.  Meantime, the dust collection system, which had not been turned off, continued to move burning material up toward the dust collector on the building’s roof, where a sharp pressure rise indicated an imminent explosion. This was contained by explosion suppression equipment, but the resulting pressure reversed the air flow, back to the pre-mix room, where a second flash fire occurred, engulfing the workers.

Investigation Supervisor Banks said, “The new system was not thoroughly commissioned.  There was no confirmation of whether the system would work as configured, missing opportunities to find potential hazards.  The design flaws were not revealed until the dust explosion.”

The report’s safety management analysis points to a lack of oversight by company engineers of the work done by installation contractors. The company chose not to perform a process hazard analysis or management of change analysis – required by company policy for the installation of new processing equipment – because it determined it was merely replacing a previous dust collection system in kind.  However, the new system in fact was of an entirely different design.

Considering the emergency response following the flash fire and dust collector explosion, CSB Investigators found that while workers had received training in emergency response situations, they did not follow those procedures, because U.S. Ink had not developed and implemented an effective hazard communication and response plan.  A fire coordinator was designated to use the public address system to announce a fire and also pull the alarm box. But because the system was not shut down immediately after the first flash fire, he was among the injured and could not perform his duties.

The CSB report’s regulatory analysis highlights the need for a national general industry combustible dust standard which the agency has long recommended that OSHA promulgate, putting in on the CSB’s “Most Wanted” list in 2013, following years of urging action as dust explosions continued to occur in industry.  The report, if adopted by the board, would reiterate the CSB’s original recommendation to OSHA, and also recommend OSHA broaden the industries it includes in its current National Emphasis Program on mitigating dust hazards, to include printing ink manufacturers.

Chairperson Moure-Eraso said, “Although OSHA’s investigation of this accident deemed it a combustible dust explosion, it did not issue any dust-related citations, doubtless hampered by the fact that there is no comprehensive combustible dust regulatory standard.  In U.S. Ink’s case – and thousands of other facilities with combustible dust – an OSHA standard would likely have required compliance with National Fire Protection Association codes that speak directly to such critical factors as dust containment and collection, hazard analysis, testing, ventilation, air flow, and fire suppression.”

The CSB report notes that the volume of air flow and the air velocity in the company’s dust collection system was significantly below industry recommendations – which, in the absence of a federal combustible dust regulation, are essentially voluntary.  The report states the ductwork design did not comply in several respects with guidelines set by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) Industrial Ventilation Manual.  Nor did the system’s design, the CSB said, comply with the voluntary requirements of NFPA 91, which states: “All ductwork shall be sized to provide the air volume and air velocity necessary to keep the duct interior clean and free of residual material.”

Chairperson Moure-Eraso said, “A national combustible dust standard would include requirements to conform to what are now largely voluntary industry guidelines and would go far in preventing these dust explosions.”

The report cites gaps in New Jersey’s regulatory system, noting the state’s Uniform Construction Code Act has adopted the International Building Code (which references NFPA dust standards) but has also exempted “manufacturing, production and process equipment.”  A proposed CSB recommendation to New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs calls on the regulatory agency to revise the state’s administrative code to remove this exemption so that dust handling equipment would be designed to meet national fire code requirements.  The state is also urged to implement training for local code officials as local jurisdictions enforce the code, and to promulgate a regulation that requires all occupancies handling hazardous materials to inform the local enforcement agency of any type of construction or installation of equipment at an industrial or manufacturing facility.

Chairperson Moure-Eraso said, “Events leading to this accident began even before the earliest planning stages, when the company failed to properly oversee the design, construction and testing of a potentially hazardous system.  The victims have suffered the consequences.  We hope our recommendations are adopted so that these terrifying industrial dust explosion accidents will stop.”

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency’s board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.

The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Visit our website, www.csb.gov.

For more information, contact Communications Manager Hillary Cohen, cell 202-446-8094 or Sandy Gilmour, Public Affairs, cell 202-251-5496.

CSB Investigation Warns of Dust Explosion Risk at Recycling Facilities

CSB Com Dust Al Solutions 2010

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released its final report, safety recommendations and accompanying safety video into a fatal combustible dust explosion at the AL Solutions metal recycling facility in New Cumberland, West Virginia.

As presented to the Board for a vote at a public meeting in Charleston, the report reiterates a recommendation that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) promulgate a general industry combustible dust standard, which CSB said it has been calling for since its 2006 study on these preventable accidents.

The December 9, 2010 accident at the AL Solutions metal recycling facility, which milled and processed scrap titanium and zirconium metal, killed three employees and injured a contractor.

The CSB said that the incident is one of nine serious combustible dust incidents investigated by the CSB since 2003. These explosions and fires caused 36 deaths and 128 injuries.

According to the CSB’s report, most solid organic materials, as well as many metals, will explode if the particles are small enough, and they are dispersed in a sufficient concentration within a confined area, near an ignition source.

The report emphasised to industry that even seemingly small amounts of accumulated combustible dust can cause catastrophic damage.

The CSB investigation determined that AL Solutions experienced a history of fatal dust fires and explosions.

A newly developed CSB safety video entitled ‘Combustible Dust: Solutions Delayed’ details the process of milling and blending metal powder at the facility which was then pressed into dense disk called ‘compacts’.

“The CSB learned that the AL Solutions facility had fatal fires and explosions involving metal dust in 1995 and 2006 in addition to the 2010 explosion. Also, from 1993 until the accident in 2010, there were at least seven fires that required responses from the local fire department,” explained investigator Mark Wingard.

Around 1:20 pm on 9 December 2010, CSB said that a spark or hot-spot from the blender likely ignited the zirconium powder inside. The resulting flash fire lofted the metal dust particles in the blender, forming a burning metal dust cloud.

The cloud ignited other combustible dust within the production building, causing a secondary explosion that ripped through the plant, killing three workers and injuring a contract employee.

“Preventable combustible dust explosions continue to occur, causing worker deaths and injuries. The CSB believes it is imperative for OSHA to  issue a comprehensive combustible dust standard for general industry with clear control requirements to prevent dust fires and explosions,” commented chairperson Rafael Moure-Eras.

In presenting the findings of the case study, CSB’s lead investigator, Johnnie Banks, said: “As the metals were broken down during milling, the risk of a metal dust fire or explosion increased as the metal particles decreased in size.

“At AL Solutions a metal blender used to process zirconium was having mechanical problems that had not been adequately repaired. As a result, the blender was producing heat or sparks due to metal-to-metal contact.”

Investigator Wingard added: “The National Fire Protection Association Standard for Combustible Metals, called NFPA 484, recommends specific practices for controlling metal dust, but AL Solutions did not voluntarily follow those guidelines, and there are no federal OSHA standards to enforce similar requirements.

“In its 2006 Combustible Dust Hazard Study, the CSB recommended that OSHA issue a combustible dust standard for general industry based on the current NFPA guidelines.”

The CSB’s report and video encourage industry to take action to prevent combustible dust incidents.  In July 2013, the CSB identified its 2006 recommendation to develop a combustible dust standard as the first issue in its ‘Most Wanted Chemical Safety Improvement’ outreach program.

According to Moure-Eraso, had a national standard for combustible dust been in place in 2006 – and if industry had followed the requirements – many of the severe dust incidents that followed, including AL Solutions, may have been prevented.

“The time is now for OSHA to take action to prevent these tragic accidents,” he urged.

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency’s board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

AL Solutions Fatal Dust Explosion
FINAL REPORT: AL Solutions
Location: New Cumberland, WV
Accident Occurred On: 12/09/2010
Final Report Released On: 07/16/2014
Accident Type: Combustible Dust Explosion and Fire
Company Name: AL Solutions
Accident Description
An explosion ripped through the New Cumberland A.L. Solutions titanium plant in West Virginia on December 9, 2010, fatally injuring three workers. The workers were processing titanium powder, which is highly flammable, at the time of the explosion.

Investigation Status
The CSB’s final report was approved 2-0 at a public meeting in Charleston, WV.

103 Years Ago, March 25, 1911, 123 Young Women Working In A Factory Never Came Home. It Changed Our Country.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire – March 25, 1911

It may not seem that the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, which happened over a century ago in New York City, would be relevant today — but it is. It was a tragedy that opened the nation’s eyes to poor working conditions in garment factories and other workplaces, and set in motion a historic era of labor reforms. Unfortunately, we haven’t built enough on these gains. Today, too many employers are failing to obey the labor and workplace safety laws that were enacted in the years following the tragedy. And in part because our government is not adequately enforcing these laws, workers are still needlessly losing their lives on the job. There is a lot that we can and must do to ensure that the well being of workers is put above profits.

The Triangle Shirtwaist incident is remembered for its shocking brutality: On March 25, 1911, a ferocious fire broke out at a factory on the ninth floor of a building in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Some of the exits and stairwells had been locked to prevent workers from taking breaks or stealing, leaving many unable to get out. As a result, 146 workers, mostly young immigrant women, died within 20 minutes. They were burned alive, asphyxiated by smoke or died trying to escape out of the windows and balcony.

The horrific event generated a nationwide outcry about working conditions and spurred efforts to improve standards. Activists and labor unions like the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) — which lost members in the fire — were at the forefront of this push for reforms. Honoring the memory of those who died is particularly important to me and others at Amalgamated Bank, which was founded by a garment worker’s union in 1923, and is now majority-owned by Workers United, the successor to all major garment worker unions, including the ILGWU.

Thanks to the efforts of the ILGWU and all who fought for workplace reforms, real changes got underway immediately; in 1911, New York State initiated the most comprehensive investigation of factory conditions in U.S. history. Their conclusions informed new standards that other states across the country replicated and built upon in subsequent years.

We’ve come a long way since the fire happened — but it’s clear we still have a long way to go.

After all, workplace safety issues are hardly a thing of the past. It seems like nearly every year, another workplace disaster happens somewhere in the United States. Like last year, when a fertilizer plant in Texas exploded, killing 14 and injuring over 160. Or in 2010, when an explosion at a West Virginia coal mine run by Massey Energy killed 29 miners and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion left 11 workers dead and caused an enormous environmental disaster.

Thankfully, none of these events matched the human cost of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire — or the devastating factory collapse in Bangladesh last year where 1,129 people died — but they should send a similar message. No one should lose his or her life because companies are putting profit making ahead of worker protections, and because our government is not performing its critical watchdog role. Experts say that in each of the cases cited above, proper safety precautions could have prevented the devastating accidents.

But companies are not consistent in their practices of adhering to worker safety precautions. So it’s up to us — through pressure on our government and strategically exercising our rights as consumers and shareholders — to ensure that the right rules are in place and that companies play by them.

This issue of worker safety is of particular concern for undocumented workers who often receive the worst treatment of all. While working in some of our most physically demanding and low-paying jobs — from construction to landscaping, and from housekeeping to daycare and nursing — many of their employers also cut corners when it comes to their safety, knowing they are less likely than other workers to stand up for their rights. Immigrants have been crucial contributors to our economy since our nation’s founding. Teenagers from Russia, Italy and Germany worked side-by-side at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory — just as immigrants from all over the world do in today’s workplaces — and it’s time we treated them with the fairness and respect they deserve.

How can we avoid these kinds of safety problems and exploitation to begin with? We can start by reinvigorating the role of unions. While unions continue to do everything they can to curb these abuses, the proportion of the workforce that is unionized has eroded dramatically since its peak in the 1950s. To ensure both safety and fairness on the job, workers need to join together on the job to improve their working conditions.

Institutional investors and other shareholders of publicly traded companies also have an important role to play. By pursuing corporate governance reforms when needed and lawsuits when companies commit serious wrongdoing, investors can spur changes from the inside out. Corporate governance actions can’t erase the tragedy, but they can help make sure companies — and their competitors — are looking out for workers going forward.

Government also needs to step up. In so many cases of workplace safety problems or worker mistreatment, there are laws on the books that just aren’t being enforced. Our elected officials need to fight for resources for workplace inspections through agencies like OSHA — which has consistently faced cuts in recent years — and ensure thorough investigations when problems are brought to their attention. For citizens, that means making our voices heard about the importance of workplace safety, and voting for elected officials who represent those views.

We can’t undo history and bring back those we’ve lost. But we can prevent others from suffering similar fates — and work to ensure both safety and fairness in the workplace — now and in the future.

Source: Keith Mestrich

Follow Keith Mestrich on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/AmalgamatedBank

CSB Releases Safety Message Featuring Sister of Worker Fatally Burned in 2010 Tesoro Refinery Explosion in Washington State

 

Washington, D.C., March 12, 2014 – Today the CSB released its second safety message in an occasional series focusing on the impacts  of chemical accidents  on people’s lives. The short video features Amy Gumbel, sister of Matt Gumbel – one of the workers fatally injured in the 2010 explosion and fire at the Tesoro Refinery in Anacortes, Washington. Entitled “The Human Cost of Gasoline” the 4-minute video explores how losing a loved one in a tragic chemical accident affects family members years later.

In 2010, thirty-four-year-old Matt Gumbel was working as an operator at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes. On the night of April 2, Matt and other workers were performing maintenance on the refinery’s naphtha hydrotreater unit. Unknown to the workers, a heat exchanger in the unit had been severely weakened over a period of years by what is called “high temperature hydrogen attack.” Suddenly and without warning the heat exchanger blew apart causing a massive fire. Matt and six others were caught in the flames.

In the video Ms. Gumbel describes the emotions that she and her family had following the fire and explosion: “Matt was everyone’s hope. I think we all thought, especially after the first couple of weeks, that Matt was going to come home one day. And everyone really just had this tremendous hope that at least one person was going to come out of it alive.”

Four years after the accident Matt’s sister wants to see improvements made and looks forward to change. “I would like to see laws changed in order to improve safety. I think that until our governments, whether it be state or federal, change the laws and the types of regulations that these companies should have, I don’t think there’s going to be any improvement,” said Ms. Gumbel.

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency’s board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.

The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Visit our website, www.csb.gov.

For more information, contact Communications Manager Hillary Cohen, cell 202-446-8094 or Sandy Gilmour, Public Affairs, cell 202-251-5496.

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