At a seafood processing plant in South Boston, five employees smelled ammonia at the end of their shift. They rushed to hit an emergency switch that was supposed to shut off the ammonia output valve, then darted out the door. But for some reason, the emergency shut off failed. Only four employees made it out. When firefighters arrived, they had air tanks but not protective suits, and the ammonia was so overpowering it pushed them back. A hazmat unit arrived later in full protection suits, but it was too late. The fifth employee did not make it out of the building alive.
Steve MacDonald, spokesman for the Boston Fire Department, has stated that the emergency response was hindered because of the poor placement of the shut-off—located in the middle of the building on the second floor. In similar plants, the valve is located near the entrance. Responders were not able to close the valve until late that evening, hours after the accident had occurred. The origin of the ammonia leak was a ruptured one-and-a-half-inch metal pipe on the second floor of the cold storage warehouse. At this time, investigators are uncertain about the cause of the rupture.
The processing plant, Stavis Seafoods, is now under investigation by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). In 2009, the plant was cited by OSHA for 15 serious safety violations, including the company’s safety program for handling anhydrous ammonia. But because inspectors later determined that the plant used less than 10,000 pounds of ammonia, it was not required to comply with OSHA’s safety program.
In 2014, the most recent year of data available, 4,679 workers were killed on the job in the United States—that amounts to about 13 workers per day. In 1970, nearly 40 workers were killed every day. Reasons for the decline in fatal workplace injuries include:
- New and better safety technology
- Heightened awareness of safety issues
- Rigorous safety regulations
- Increased use of equipment and other safety controls
Despite the overall decline in workplace fatalities, experts believe that many chronic illnesses and deaths go untracked because symptoms manifest gradually over a long period of time as workers are slowly exposed to hazardous chemicals. For example, workers exposed to asbestos who develop mesothelioma are not counted in workplace fatality statistics.
Chemical exposure accident, and ammonia exposure accidents are relatively rare occurrences. The most common types of workplace fatalities in 2014 were:
- Transportation-related incidents (40 percent of all deaths)
- Falls (17 percent of all deaths)
- Slips and trips (16 percent of all deaths)
- Violence and other injuries by people or animals (16 percent)
- Contact with objects and equipment (15 percent)
- Fires and explosions (3 percent).
According to Boston University environmental health professor Richard Clapp, this recent case in Boston was an unusual and extreme situation. Most workplaces that regularly deal with hazardous materials like ammonia are equipped to prevent potential injuries from contamination.
New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Shebell & Shebell Get Compensation For Workers Injured by Hazardous Chemicals
If you have been exposed to dangerous chemicals on the job, either acutely in a workplace accident, or slowly over a period of time, resulting in a health condition, the experienced New Jersey Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Shebell & Shebell will fight for your legal right to compensation. We represent clients throughout New Jersey, including Monmouth County, Middlesex County, and Ocean County, including Howell, Freehold, Middletown, Shrewsbury, Wall, Keansburg, Asbury Park, Long Branch, Union Beach and Neptune. For a free consultation, call us at 866-957-5237 or contact us online today.