A Blue Rhino plant in Tavares, FL that cleans out old propane cylinders and fills them with new gas exploded on Monday night, injuring eight and leaving four in critical condition. So far no fatalities are being reported.
All of the injured are employees. Between 24 and 26 workers were in the main building at the time of the first explosion.
There were about 53,000 propane tanks at the plant at the time of the explosion. The fire came from those canisters, most of which ignited, but the three bulk tanks that hold 90,000 gallons of propane each did not ignite, which could have made the accident far worse.
Sabotage has been ruled out, and the Tavares fire chief says the likely cause was human or equipment error. The fire marshal will investigate the cause.
Blue Rhino was cited with a “serious” violation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in November of 2011, related to “hand and portable powered tools and equipment.” An informal settlement was reached a few days after the penalty was issued.
This plant explosion is the fifth since April, when a fertilizer plant erupted in West, TX, killing 15 people and injuring more than 160. In June, two different chemical plants exploded in Louisiana, the first killing two and injuring 73 and the second killing one and injuring seven. A grain bin exploded in Indiana later that month, killing one worker.
Many of these plants hadn’t seen an OSHA inspector in years, if at all. Thanks to perpetually low funding and staffing, the average workplace only gets a visit from the agency every 99 years. The wait time will get even longer under sequestration, which will mean 1,200 fewer inspections.
While the recorded number of workplace injuries fell by 31 percent over the last decade, the absolute numbers are incredibly high. More than 4,600 workers were killed on the job in 2011, an average of 13 a day, which is more lives lost than during the entire Iraq War. Workers also reported 6.8 million job-related injuries and illnesses.
These injuries and deaths don’t just come with a high human cost, but the failure to prevent them also comes with a high economic cost. There were 5,600 fatal workplace injuries and 8,559,000 nonfatal ones in 2007, while there were 53,000 fatal illnesses contracted at work and 427,000 nonfatal ones. In total this cost society $250 billion due to medical and indirect costs.