Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Recent widespread industrial accidents spur state warnings

by August 14th, 2012

A series of workplace deaths and accidents has prompted Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries to issue worker safety warnings about hazards to several segments of the state’s industrial economy. In the past three months, the state has issued hazard bulletins on collapsing concrete block walls, farm machinery accidents, carbon monoxide poisoning, crane safety around electrical lines, and the potential for sawdust explosions in sawmills. The L&I warnings from the past three months are due to:

* Cranes touching power lines six times statewide in the past six months. The six include one electrocution fatality in June when a construction foreman rigging a bundle of boards at a boom truck crane when it touched an overhead power line in Bellevue, according to a state roundup of 2012 industrial deaths through late July.

* Three men being killed in two tractor accidents and one forklift accident in Yakima County orchards in June and July. On June 26, an orchard owner driving a tractor got pinned between a large tree limb and the tractor. On July 4, an orchard worker was changing a tire on a sprayer attached to tractor, which was running. Then the tractor moved forward, causing the sprayer wheels to run over him. On July 7, an orchard worker drove a forklift off the steep side of a road, causing the forklift to flip and crush him.

* A helicopter pilot died when his aircraft hovering over an orchard — fanning the trees to dry the fruit — struck a power line June 12 in East Wenatchee. This co-pilot was seriously injured. His accident was not mentioned in the hazard bulletins, but is listed in the state 2012 industrial deaths, as well as the Wenatchee World newspaper.

* Eleven people suffering carbon monoxide poisoningin three incidents in recent months. These include one fatality when a worker was pressure-washing the inside of a docked commercial fishing vessel in King County on May 30, according the 2012 state fatalities roundup.

* Two 2012 incidents of collapsing storage walls of interlocked concrete blocks. That included heavy fertilizer bags pushing over a Moses Lake warehouse wall in February to kill a man.

* Two 2012 sawmill explosions in British Columbia that killed four men. One occurred in January at Burns Lake, B.C., killing two and injuring 19. Two more died and 22 were injured in an April sawmill explosion at Prince George, B.C. The suspected causes of the two explosions are beetle-infested wood, which creates finer, more combustible sawdust grains than non-infested wood, said L&i spokeswoman Elaine Fischer. The state alerted 104 Washington sawmills of this danger. However, the state does not have a breakdown on whether Washington sawmills are cutting and processing beetle-infested lumber.

This number of hazard bulletins to date this year is the most that Washington L&I has issued in a short stretch of time since 2010. However, this year’s number of industrial accidents is happening at roughly the same rate as 2011, which was the lowest in several years. So far, 31 fatal industrial accidents have occurred in Washington this year, putting 2012 on pace for 53 fatalities. Fifty-one Washingtonians died in industrial accidents in 2011.

The numbers of industrial fatalities in Washington have steadily dropped in recent years – marred by a big jump in 2010, said a 2011 L&I report. The numbers are 96 in 2004; 79 in 2005; 90 in 2006; 80 in 2007; 72 in 2008; 65 in 2009; 89 in 2010; and 51 in 2011.

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