Making the Industry Safe from Industrial Accidents

Some of the most notorious industrial accidents are notable because of the great damage, injury or loss of lives they caused. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 killed hundreds of people and destroyed miles of Chicago. The fire and explosion that occurred at a refinery in Texas City, Texas, in March 2005, killed 15 workers and injured more than 170 others.  

Fire and chemical accidents, falling objects, ergonomic injuries, and slips, trips, and falls are some of the most common industrial accidents. Fortunately, most types of industrial accidents are preventable with repeated safety training and industry-specific safeguards.

Hazardous materials

Some industries have a higher likelihood of a large-scale workplace accident because of the materials that are handled. For example, the Chicago fire in 1871 was made more severe because of the heavy concentration of industry materials in a small area—lumber, fuel and chemicals, among others.

Routinely check the emergency evacuation and sprinkler system, and hold regularly scheduled emergency drills. If a workplace accident requires evacuation, employees should know the proper procedures. Fast, calm action after an accident can save lives.

Chemicals carry their own special hazards. The key to avoiding a chemical accident is to know how to properly use and dispose of these chemicals. Material safety data sheets (MSDS) are important components of workplace safety. MSDS are intended to provide workers and emergency personnel with procedures for safely handling or working with chemical substances. MSDS include information about the materials, such as physical data (melting point, boiling point, flash point, etc.), toxicity, health effects, first aid, reactivity, storage, disposal, protective equipment and spill-handling procedures. Every employee should know what chemicals are present in the workplace and how to use MSDS.

Strenuous activity

Industrial jobs often require heavy lifting or the use of heavy machinery, which can result in overexertion or exhaustion in the employee. It is important that employees know their limits when it comes to lifting objects and that they rest when necessary. It is not wise to continue a task and cause injury to the body. Some jobs may be more strenuous than others. Employers may require a physical exam to ensure their employees are able to perform the job properly and safely.

Additionally, there should be a clear outline on rules and requirements for overtime to avoid strain on employees. Fatigue is extremely hazardous in the workplace, especially in industrial settings where employees may be working with heavy machinery or hazardous materials. Every employee should be well rested and alert when they come to the workplace. If the job requires employees to work for long stretches of time, especially on their feet, then employers should provide a rest area for breaks or naps between shifts.

Slips, trips and falls

Slips, trips and falls are some of the most common injuries in most industrial settings. By removing the hazards, employers can reduce the risks for fall injuries. If there are any spills, ensure they are cleaned up promptly and “Caution: Wet Floor” signs are displayed. Electrical and telephone cords should be routed around doorways and walkways to keep walking paths clear. Worn, torn or loose floor coverings should be repaired or replaced immediately. Floors should be swept or vacuumed daily, and proper footwear, shoes and boots with nonslip soles should be worn at all times to reduce the risk of employee slip and fall accidents.

Some companies, such as Corpus Christi-based Refinery Terminal Fire Company (RTFC), pride themselves on putting these safety practices to work.  

RTFC was created in response to what is largely considered America’s worst industrial accident. In 1947, a French cargo ship carrying 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded while docked in Texas City. More than 500 people died, including 28 firefighters. The following year, RTFC was created in the Corpus Christi port area.

Today, RTFC responds to fires, rescues, medical and hazardous materials emergencies in the oil, petrochemical, pipeline and port facilities across Texas. The company’s employees are committed to doing their jobs safely.  

Aside from having a dedicated safety officer, RTFC starts every day with a safety meeting to review the hazards of the job. Together, the staff reviews a safety checklist about personal protective equipment to ensure that all equipment is in proper working order.

During monthly safety meetings, the staff reviews any incident that may have occurred in order to learn from it. RTFC’s goal is to uncover the root causes of incidents, identify ways to prevent similar incidents and continue to keep employees engaged in workplace safety.

It’s important for employers to learn from each other and gather best practices for workplace safety. RTFC is as a prime example of how to operate together and safely.

Whether at a large, complicated operation such as a refinery or in a small, family owned business, proper workplace safety training and safeguards can reduce the number of on-the-job injuries, which is a benefit to the company and—more importantly—its employees.


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