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OSHA Accuses Blue Rhino of Multiple Safety Violations after Plant Explosion

By Orlando Personal Injury Attorney on February 21, 2014

Orlando personal injury attorneys are closely monitoring developments in a plant explosion last summer that left five workers with severe burns. Workplace accident investigators with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently accused Blue Rhino of committing numerous safety violations in connection with an explosion and fire at the company’s propane depot in Tavares last July. Ric Ridgway, a prosecutor who reviewed the State Fire Marshal’s investigation of the July 29 accident, said the accident started when a spark from a forklift ignited "a cloud of propane" behind the plant. He said that his investigation found no evidence of criminal negligence in connection with the accident.

OSHA conducted their own investigation into the accident and recently announced the results. They found that Ferrellgas, parent company of Blue Rhino committed 26 safety violations that led to the accident, with 20 of the violations described as “serious.” The OSHA report said that during their first visit to the site after the explosion, they found that the inferno had caused hundreds of 20-pound metal propane cylinders to explode and fly up into the air.

OSHA said that Blue Rhino had knowingly exposed workers to serious fire hazards by allowing them to bleed leftover gas from the propane cylinders into the storage yard, creating ideal conditions for a gas explosion. Investigators also found that Blue Rhino allowed workers to "deviate" from procedures by failing to prevent propane from leaking into the atmosphere and allowing workers to operate forklifts without required safety training.

“At the site, forklift operators were required to operate a forklift daily for 10 hours non-stop" without training, the OSHA report found.

OSHA also found that Blue Rhino had failed to train workers, many of whom were supplied by a local temp agency, in other types of safety procedures.

Investigators estimate that around 85,000 propane cylinders were stored on site the day of the accident, with 50,000 full of propane and ready to ship.

Ferrellgas spokesman Scott Brockelmeyer did not respond to OSHA’s findings but said in an earlier email "it has never been Blue Rhino’s practice to bleed propane tanks in the yard under any circumstances."

Two of the employees who suffered severe burns in the explosion said that the proper way to bleed propane from the cylinders before servicing was by using an “evac machine, “ but that the machine had not worked properly for around 18 months before the explosion. However, when asked about this, Brockelmeyer said the evacuation machine "has always functioned as designed and is currently functioning properly."

The five workers who were injured in the blast suffered devastating burn injuries that resulted in disfigurement of their faces, hands, arms, legs and torsos, as well as lost or severely diminished function and freedom of movement. Even under the best circumstances, their lives and the lives of their loved ones have been irrevocably changed.

If you are injured on the job and would like to speak with an Orlando workplace accident lawyer about the law, your rights and your legal options, contact the Law Offices of James O. Cunningham, P.A. today at 877-FL-INJURY (877-354-6587).

James O. Cunningham

Since 1977, personal injury lawyer James Cunningham has provided effective legal advocacy to people who are injured through the negligent actions of another person or entity throughout the Central Florida area. He fights to obtain recoveries for his clients’ physical and emotional pain and suffering and pursues his clients’ personal injury cases with a commitment to excellence and impeccable preparation.

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