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Construction Site Explosions and Fires

Construction Site Explosions and Fires

Every year, construction workers are injured and killed due to fires and explosions. The National Institute of Safety and Health, NIOSH, reports that between 1992 and 2003 there were 358 explosion deaths in the construction industry, and 80 multiple death incidents. The most common causes of fatal explosion and fire incidents are welding, electrical sparks, heavy equipment striking underground pipelines, open flames/pilot lights, motor vehicle crashes, and cutting/drilling. Over half of recorded incidents occurred in industrial plants with contract employees, demonstrating the need for site specific training.

WISHA, the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act, includes specific regulations designed to reduce the risk of construction site fires. Under WAC 296-155-260, “Fire Protection,” employers must at a minimum take the following steps to protect employees:

  • Develop a fire protection program
  • Provide access to firefighting equipment at all times, and regularly inspect firefighting equipment
  • Provide a water supply of sufficient volume, duration, and pressure to operate firefighting equipment
  • Where underground water mains are to be provided, they must be installed and available for use as soon as practicable during the construction process, and if a building includes a sprinkler system, it must be installed as soon as possible
  • There must be at least one fire extinguisher on every floor and enough fire extinguishers present that workers do not have to go more than 100 feet to retrieve one when needed (but sometime a hose may substitute)
  • Fire walls and exit stairways shall be given construction priority over other jobs
  • Fire alarm systems are required

Similarly, WISHA requires employers to take steps to prevent fires before they begin under WAC 296-155-265. Among other safety precautions, employers must:

  • Exhaust from engine powered equipment must be kept a safe distance from combustible materials
  • No smoking may be allowed near fire hazards
  • Temporary buildings may not block any means of exit
  • Combustible materials must be stored so as to reduce the risk of catching fire, and to minimize the spread of fire internally and to permit convenient access for firefighting

Although explosions and fires are not the most common cause of construction site injuries, the impact of such incidents on worker health and safety can be devastating. Furthermore, an explosion or fire at a worksite tends to impact all workers present, and is likely to give rise to a third party liability claim. For example, where an explosion or fire results from the negligence of one contractor, injured employees of other contractors at the work site are likely entitled to recover from the at fault contractor.

If you have been injured in an explosion or fire on a construction site, it is recommended that you consult with an attorney to investigate whether you are entitled to financial recovery. More so than other construction site injury accidents, negligence resulting in a fire or explosion may not be readily apparent, and an investigation is often necessary to determine the cause of the incident. The lawyers at Kraft Davies, PLLC, are experienced in handling construction site injury cases involving multiple contractors and are available to speak with you regarding your injuries.