This short presentation describes two preventable workplace incidents where workers in Washington state was seriously injured on the job and is narrated by the L & I industrial hygienist who conducted the investigation. To view the narration script, click on the button on the lower right corner of the screen. To move between slides, or view a particular slide again, click on the same lower right hand corner button and then click on the back and forward arrows at the bottom of the screen.
Hello my name is Katie Keefe and I am an industrial hygienist who worked for the Department of Labor & Industries, Division of Occupational Safety & Health for several years. In 2008 and again in 2010 I was assigned to investigate two separate incidents in which workers were hospitalized because corrosive cleaning chemicals had splashed on them. In the first case, the worker suffered severe skin burns, in the second case, the worker lost most of his sight.
The first worker was 18 years old, and worked as a night janitor doing a variety of cleaning tasks in a fast food restaurant that was part of a large chain. One of his duties was to periodically clean out the fryer vats using a product called “Mr. Muscle Fryer Boilout” mixed in water. This powdered product containing hydroacetic acid was mixed into several gallons of water poured into the fryer vats. Adding this product to the water made it acidic and corrosive. In the fryer vat, the water was brought to a boil, cooled for 10 minutes and then drained out the bottom into a bucket.
The bucket containing this hot water/acid mix had no lid and had no handles. the worker had to carry it to a nearby sink to dump it out, holding it by the narrow lip near the top. The temperature of this mixture was about 200 degrees.
After water had drained into the bucket, the worker picked up the bucket of hot liquid by the narrow lip, then carried it about 20 feet from the fryer to the sink just off to the right in this animation, holding the bucket above his waist. As the worker approached the sink, the bucket slipped from his grasp causing the hot water/acid mix to splash on to his face and right arm as shown. He had not been provided any eye or face protection or gloves. There was no eyewash in the restaurant, and he was working alone, so he called 911. He was taken to the local hospital and treated for second and third degree burns on his face and arm.
This incident could have been easily prevented if the employer had provided the worker with a bucket with a sealable spigot and a handle, a rubber or plastic apron, rubber gloves and safety goggles. State safety regulations require this as well and the company was cited for the lack of these safety measures and for not having an eyewash at the workplace. This first worker was fortunate to have splashed very little of the hot corrosive liquid to his eyes, but in the second incident, the worker was not so lucky. Highly corrosive caustic cleaning solution splashed directly into his eyes, causing permanent damage.
In this incident, the 51-year-old worker was part of a cleaning crew in a meat processing facility. The processing equipment in this facility becomes coated with fat and grease and requires daily cleanup with a variety of corrosive chemicals and liquids.
Part of the worker's duties was to manually clean equipment with a brush dipped in 50% sodium hydroxide mixted in water, carried in a bucket without a lid similar to the one in this photo. Sodium hydroxide, sometimes called caustic soda, is highly corrosive, especially at this high concentration.
The photo on the left shows the personal protective equipment the employer provided to the clean-up crew when they used the corrosive cleaning chemicals. They were also provided thin vinyl food handlers gloves similar to that shown on the right photo, which does not protect against corrosive chemicals. The cleanup crew often wore several pair at once since they found the cleaning chemicals had penetrated a single layer of these inadequate gloves.
The injured employee, working alone, tripped over equipment while carrying his uncovered bucket of corrosive cleaner. As he fell, his hard hat and attached faceshield fell off. He lost control of the bucket causing the liquid to splash out of the bucket onto his neck and face and then into his eyes.
The photo on the left is the emergency eyewash and shower where the employee went after the cleaning chemical splashed on him. Unfortunately, the emergency washing equipment was located in an area difficult to reach because of obstacles in the work area and its distance from where the cleaning chemical was applied. Because of the immediate and extremely painful effect of the corrosive chemical in his eyes, he was unable to self navigate his way to the emergency eyewash. After several minutes of calling for help, another employee found him and took him to the emergency washing facilities. Because he was unable to reach the eyewash immediately and the sodium hydroxide cleaning solution was so strong, he sustained eye damage similar to that shown in the photo on the right. Sodium hydroxide can be difficult to wash out of the eyes and damage to eyes can be severe, even with emergency treatment. This worker lost his vision completely in one eye and his vision is greatly impaired in the other.
As in the first incident, this second incident could have been prevented if the employer had provided buckets with lids for the corrosive cleaning liquid and provided the injured worker with chemical goggles, rather than just a face shield. My investigation also showed that the employer had not adequately trained the cleaning crew on the extreme hazard of handling the various corrosive cleaning chemicals. The employer had neither informed workers that bucket lids were required to be used when transporting the cleaning mixtures nor provided sufficient lids to ensure compliance with this procedure. The company received a substantial penalty for several violations of L & I safety and health regulations. But even worse, is the life-altering injury this worker suffered.
Both of these incidents, could easily have been prevented by basic and relatively inexpensive safety measures – keeping and transporting corrosive liquids in closed containers, providing workers with eye and skin protection and installing emergency eyewash stations in work areas where corrosive liquids are handled. Please help us Keep Washington Safe and Working.