This short presentation describes two preventable workplace incidents where workers in Washington state were seriously injured on the job and is narrated by the L & I safety inspectors who conducted these investigations. 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 Dale Yamauchi. And my name is Amy Drapeau and we are both safety and health specialists with the Department of Labor & Industries, Division of Occupational Safety & Health. [Dale speaking] In 2009 & 2010, we were both assigned to investigate incidents where workers were seriously burned by stepping into molten metal at their workplaces. In my investigation, a worker stepped into a kettle of molten metal at a temperature of 850 degrees. [Amy speaking] And in my investigation three months earlier, a much more severe injury occurred when a worker stepped into molten metal at 2800 degrees. Dale will first describe the incident she investigated and then I will describe what happened in the incident I investigated.
[Dale speaking] I investigated an incident at a galvanizing company, where metal parts are dipped into a long kettle of molten zinc at a temperature of 850 degrees. About once a week, workers were required to scrape the sides of the kettle enclosure to remove zinc spatter that occurs during the dipping process. The kettle was partially covered with metal lids during the weekend, with some gaps to prevent the kettle from overheating. Before removing the lids Sunday evening, graveyard shift workers were assigned to scrape the kettle enclosure.
The kettle containing the molten zinc is 44 feet long, 4 feet wide and 5 feet deep. Two workers would climb up into the kettle enclosure and stand on the lids to scrape the walls. However, the lids were not moved to fully cover the kettle, leaving the gaps open.
On the day of the incident, the injured worker was assigned to scrape the walls – a job he had not done before. He was told to “be careful” and stay away from the lid gaps. The worker said he knew of the obvious hazard of molten zinc. But in concentrating on his task of scraping the walls, he changed positions to reach a spot and stepped backwards into the molten zinc with his left foot. The molten zinc entered his boot through the top. He was able to pull his leg out, remove his boot and notify his co-workers who called 911. He was treated at the hospital for severe skin burns to his foot and leg up to his knee.
In my investigation, I learned that a similar incident occurred to another employee at this workplace 14 years earlier. Following that incident, the employer developed a policy that there were to be no gaps between lids during the wall scraping process. However, the employer had not communicated this rule to all exposed employees in the years since then, and did not effectively enforce this rule. Several employees told me that the practice of closing all the gaps had not been followed for several years.
This incident is an example of how the possibility of human error can be addressed by eliminating the hazard. In this case, the hazard of inadvertently stepping into molten zinc because a worker is distracted or intently focused on the job, could have been eliminated by preventing access to the kettles and covering the molten zinc completely. This worker sustained serious burns only to his foot and leg, but he could have fallen completely into the molten zinc. After this incident, the employer revised their policy on this cleaning process and now prohibit workers from standing on the kettles even with the lids on.
[Amy speaking] I investigated an incident in a foundry, where molten steel is poured into a large 14 foot square mold with openings on top as shown in the photo.
Since the mold was seven feet high, workers had to stand on makeshift scaffolds to toss bags of chemicals into the round openings called risers on top of the mold. If the bag missed the opening, they were supposed to push it into the opening with an eleven-foot-long metal push rod.
The rod was not long enough to reach the far opening, so the worker walked out onto the mold to kick the bag of chemical into the opening. In attempting to kick the bag, he lost his balance and stepped into the 24 inch diameter opening. At 2800 degrees, the molten metal immediately set his clothes on fire and he jumped off the mold. Other workers ran over to him to smother the flames on his arms and legs. He was transported to the hospital with burns so severe that eventually his leg and arm had to be amputated.
This incident is also an example of an obvious hazard that was not fully addressed in the company’s accident prevention program. Even though the company’s policy was to tell workers not to step out onto the mold when it contained molten metal, employees stated “everyone did it” on occasion. The best solution is to either eliminate the hazard or prevent worker access to the hazard, in this case molten metal. The hazard could have been addressed by either providing longer push rods so the chemical bags could be pushed into the openings without leaving the worker platform, or by installing a walking platform with guardrails along the edge of the mold. Remember that elimination of a hazard where feasible is the best way of addressing a hazard. Please help us keep Washington Safe and Working.