Compensation for Workplace Fires & Explosions
How to prevent accidents and what to do after a
work-related injury in Colorado
Serious injuries caused by fires, burns, and explosions at work are surprisingly common in Colorado, particularly due to the state’s high number of extraction and manufacturing jobs.
In July 2017, the journal “Energy Research and Social Sciences” reported that approximately 116 fires and explosions occurred in Colorado-based oil and gas companies between 2006 and 2015. The federal government reports that approximately 200 fatalities and 5,000 injuries related to explosions or fires occur each year.
In Colorado, these events must be reported by the companies if a member of the public becomes harmed and needs medical intervention. Companies must also report the event if a well location or piece of equipment suffered serious damage.
Common causes of explosions or fires at work
There are many reasons why these serious accidents can occur in the workplace, including:
- Combustible particles. Dust from chemical manufacturing, metal, or woodworking have the potential for catching fire or causing an explosion. While a small fire is easily remedied, combustible dust becomes airborne. When ignited, the dust cloud may explode, leading to employee injuries and facility damage.
- Electrical dangers. Improper use of extension cords, overloaded circuits or outlets, and static electricity all have the potential to start a fire. When combined with combustible airborne particles, gas, or flammable liquids, a spark emitted from a problematic electrical area may lead to an explosion.
- Flammable gases and liquids. These types of fires or explosions may occur at chemical plants or in the oil and gas industry. Some potentially hazardous materials include acrylic acid, crude oil, and rocket fuel.
- Hot work. Torch cutting, welding, brazing, burning, heating and soldering are all considered hot work, which poses a fire hazard. The molten metal and sparks emitted during the process often reach temperatures greater than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The sparks, in particular, have the potential of traveling in excess of 35 feet, which may lead to a fire in another location.
- Machinery or equipment. Mechanical equipment that generates heat poses a hazard due to the friction generated between moving parts or the heat created by the equipment itself. Examples include improperly installed or maintained furnaces.
Common fire-related workplace injuries
There are many types of injuries that may occur in the event of a fire or explosion. Employees might suffer severe burns that lead to permanent scarring. They might lose a limb. Inhaling toxic fumes or smoke causes respiratory damage that may lead to long-term lung disease. Debris from an explosion may cause severe injuries to the face and head. Employees might also suffer a traumatic brain injury, internal hemorrhage, or perforated organs.
Oil and gas facilities are responsible for the extraction, refining and distribution of many combustible products. Many of the processes involved in the industry present dangers to employees. Explosions or fires also often happen in chemical plants, construction sites, manufacturing facilities, and warehouses.
Fire prevention methods in the workplace
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that facility employers adopt a number of programs to reduce the likelihood of workplace explosions and fires.
For starters, employers must have a fire prevention program and training for employees. They can only store flammable substances in approved containers or tanks. Any device capable of generating heat must be a minimum of 10 feet away from flammable items. Industries that use explosive devices must only permit trained and qualified personnel to handle the items.
Other fire and explosion prevention strategies involve:
- Combustible dust safety. Good housekeeping techniques ensure that hazardous particles are regularly removed from the area, which may include the use of industrial vacuums.
- Electrical fire prevention. Facility wiring must be up to code. Employees shouldn’t overload circuits or outlets, or use extension cords. They should unplug equipment when not in use. Employees are encouraged to wear and use materials that don’t create static electricity. Employees must regularly remove combustible dust.
- Flammable gas and liquid safety. All employees should receive training concerning the possible hazards of their work materials. Gases and liquids must be stored in accordance with OSHA regulations. Ignition sources must be kept at a safe distance from flammable substances. Employees must have access to, and wear, protective equipment when handling flammable gas or liquids.
- Hot work safety. Personnel must be trained according to the facility’s policies and procedures in performing the duties and handling the equipment. Areas must be free of combustible materials. Safety personnel must be on hand to supervise all activities.
- Machinery and equipment safety. Employees should receive equipment training and the potential hazards posed by individual machines. Employees must keep work areas clean to prevent possible dust combustion. All types of equipment must undergo routine inspections and maintenance.
Right to compensation for Colorado workers
If an employee in Colorado suffers an injury in a work-related explosion or fire, they can file a claim through workers’ compensation. To accomplish this, they should consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can ensure that documents are correctly completed and that the appropriate details of the event are recorded.
With the help of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney, workers or their families may receive compensation for:
- Lost wages
- Current and future medical expenses
- Vocational retraining (if needed)
- Partial or total disability