Fatal North Carolina Work Accident Prompts Safety Review

A recent accident at a South Carolina plant proved fatal for a 39-year-old North Carolina husband and father, who was working his very first shift on the job. Another man was injured. chemicalinjury.jpg

Our North Carolina and South Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers know those facts alone would be red flags, suggesting a company may not have provided enough training for a new hire, especially if conditions were potentially dangerous.

The incident happened late last month at a paper plant in Catawba, South Carolina. Officials with the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) are investigating, though any formal conclusions are unlikely to be reached for at least six weeks. At this point, it is a suspected chemical incident. County emergency management officials say that three workers – including the victim, a man from Monroe, North Carolina, and his cousin, who was also working his first shift on the job as a contract employee – were cleaning a huge tank inside the plant’s generation area. There was a scheduled maintenance power outage around 1:30 a.m., at which point it is believed some type of chemical leaked into the tank, which is designed to suck up fumes from the mill’s generation area so they don’t pour into the general work area and put employees at risk.

While the men were cleaning, the alarm went off. The cousin and other worker were able to scramble out, but the victim was stuck suspended by a harness. His cousin later told reporters he ran to get help, and at first wasn’t taken seriously by supervisors.

By the time emergency crews were cleared to safely enter the tank, his wife was already on the scene, watching helplessly from outside. The worker, still strapped in his harness, had already died.

The plant later contended that the men were all equipped with the proper protective gear and were well-trained. The cousin disputes that account. He says that he and his cousin were given a short video to watch 12 hours prior to the shift. They were shown a respirator during training that reportedly failed, but the supervisor reportedly told them it was “fine.” He added that the same supervisor gave them the answers to a safety test they were to take prior to starting.

If OSHA’s investigation lends credence to these allegations, it would no doubt be an egregious violation of safety procedures. These are not simple formalities. As this situation shows, such procedures and equipment are required so that tragedies like this do not occur.

This is not the first time this particular company’s employees have been placed at risk. Last spring, a mixture of sodium hydroxide and other chemicals was sprayed on four workers in the plant’s pulping area after a suction valve burst. The workers had been wearing heavy duty protective gear, and still suffered second- and third-degree burns all over their bodies, including their eyes.

Also last year, a contractor was sprayed in the face with a toxic chemical while transferring it from a truck to a holding container. He was rushed to a nearby hospital.

Altogether last year, OSHA issued four serious violations against the company for failure to test its breathing equipment, install carbon monoxide alarms, train two workers or review its own Exposure Control Plan.

This plant was also the site where two workers were killed and several others injured in 2000 when several pipes exploded.

If you have been injured on the job and need a workers’ compensation lawyer in North Carolina or South Carolina, contact Grimes Teich Anderson LLP at 1.800.533.6845. Attorney Henry E. Teich is a North Carolina Board Certified Specialists in Workers’ Compensation.

Additional Resources:
NC worker dies in accident at York Co. paper plant, Jan. 22, 2013, By Jonathan McFadden, Herald Online
Widow makes serious allegations against paper plant after contractor’s death, Jan. 29, 2013, By Kristy Etheridge, WBTV-3
More Blog Entries:
North Carolina Hospital Fire Highlights Risks at Home and Work, Nov. 13, 2012, North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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