The source of a massive explosion last July that lit up the night sky around Tavares, Florida, and did massive amounts of damage to a Blue Rhino plant and the surrounding area has been determined by the Florida Fire Inspector.
The Blue Rhino plant in question refurbishes and refills the 20-pound propane canisters that people typically use on the grill in their backyard. The damage was caused not just by the explosion and fire, but also from the 53,000 propane canisters that ignited and flew into nearby buildings and properties. The flames could be seen for miles, and led to a number of evacuations and hundreds of emergency calls to 911. It also resulted in eight workers being seriously injured.
According to the Florida State Fire Marshall’s report, the entire tragedy was caused by a single forklift operator, who started his equipment in the wrong area at the wrong time.
The plant’s evac-machine – which is what workers are supposed to use to drain or “bleed” the tanks properly, had a disconnected solenoid valve, and had been down for nearly a year and a half at the time of the blast. Because of this, a group of workers was bleeding the tanks by hand in an area just behind the plant. As they were working on this task, the forklift operator drove up and asked the workers if they needed some help. Understanding the repercussions of having a motorized forklift so close to their operation, the workers immediately yelled at the forklift operator to get away from the area. But as soon as the operator started up the forklift, the workers saw a flame or spark, and then an explosion, which seriously injured the forklift operator.
The Fire Marshall cited Farrellgas, the owners of the Blue Rhino plant, for the circumstances that led to the explosion, as well as several other violations of fire regulations (and common sense) that were discovered during their investigation. For example, besides doing nothing to repair the machine designed to pull propane out of the tanks safely and allowing the workers themselves to choose anyplace to drain the canisters, the company also allowed workers to sandblast canisters before making sure they were empty of propane.
The plant also had no policies or procedures in place with regard to emergencies, and workers were unsure what to do, or even what constituted an emergency. Forklift operators and others received no training with regard to operating their equipment around propane gas, and no one had been trained with regard to safety measures such as the yellow and red propane alarm sensors and pressure warnings during the filling process, so they had no idea what they meant. They had also failed to train workers with regard to opening and closing valves of the recovery system; or even how to check valves and seams for leaks.
According to the Florida Fire Marshall, the plant was an accident waiting to happen long before the explosion and fire. There are still ongoing investigations by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Florida Bureau of LP gas.
Even before the OSHA investigation is complete, it is clear that this employer did not take their responsibility to keep workers as safe as possible very seriously. Workers were not given proper training or supervision to keep everyone in the workplace safe. If you or a loved one have been injured or killed while working in an unsafe workplace, please contact the Texas Workplace Injury Lawyers at Hill Law Firm as soon as possible for a free consultation, so that you can protect your rights under the law.