We often speak informally of workplace accidents. Truth be told, most, if not all, are not accidents. They are negligence. Some fail to follow safety regulations through ignorance or willful disregard for human life, but many workplace fatalities and injuries are no surprise.
An investigation by the Houston Chronicle at the business of industrial tank cleaning found that this tank cleaning business is not only relatively unregulated, but that just how unregulated is almost breathtaking.
Sadly, it is not as breathtaking as the chemicals that some workers encounter that on occasion asphyxiate and kill them. At the end of July, a worker died such a death when he entered a railcar in Las Vegas, and was quickly overcome by ethanol vapors in the tank car.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency that should be responsible for protecting workers in this line of business cannot even identify what lines of business should be identified with tank cleaning.
According to the Chronicle report, OSHA does not know how many workers have suffered fatal work accidents or been injured while cleaning tanks. It does not know or track the types of chemicals they are exposed to, and which may cause them to develop illnesses or diseases, often many years later.
The paper found more than 370 businesses across the nation that performed this type of work, but they admit there could be additional tank cleaning entities. They also determined that there have been 51 deaths in the last 15 years.
OSHA has only inspected a small percentage of the sites, and there was an average of nine dangerous violations. As with the fatal accident in Las Vegas, the violations often involved inadequate breathing apparatus and workers entering confined spaces where they could suffocate.
With the current oil boom, and the vast numbers of rail tank cars being used, this industry is likely grow and absent a strong political push from someone, workers will continue to die alone in tanks, seen by an industry as expendable and unseen by virtually everyone else.
Scienceblog.com, "Not an “accident”: Stanley Thomas Wright, 47, suffers work-related asphyxiation at railyard in North Las Vegas," Celeste Monforton, August 7, 2014