Lessons from the Field: Dallas’ Thanksgiving Tower Accident

The holidays will forever be linked to loss for three Texas families, thanks to a well-publicized on-the-job accident at Dallas’ Thanksgiving Tower. It is too late to spare these families the pain and suffering that comes from losing a loved one. We can, however, take steps to ensure this type of accident does not happen again.

The victims
A 60-year-old grandfather and former waiter who had been on the job about two months

A 43-year-old man with three children who was hired the day before the accident

A 36-year-old man with four children and two years on the job

The accident

The fire forced hundreds of people who worked in Thanksgiving Tower to evacuate, underscoring the importance of emergency preparedness plans.

The fire forced hundreds of people who worked in Thanksgiving Tower to evacuate, underscoring the importance of emergency preparedness plans.

The three men were subcontractors hired to clean a 30-foot-deep storage tank in Dallas’ Thanksgiving Tower. The man with the most experience (2 years) was using a torch to cut away rusted components from the tank. Suddenly, a spark ignited a flash fire that triggered an explosion. The building’s power went out, perhaps due to the explosion. Consequently, co-workers were unable to use the mechanical lift to pull the men from the tank. Officials cite smoke inhalation as the likely cause of death for all three men.

General safety tips

Every employer, regardless of injury, can learn valuable lessons from this tragedy:

– Train new employees on safety procedures before you let them start working.

– Hold subcontractors and temporary employees to the same safety standards as permanent employees.

– Provide regularly scheduled refresher training to long-time employees.

– Empower your employees to stop any operation they feel is unsafe.

– Do not send employees to clients’ job sites if you feel their safety is at risk.

Incident-specific safety tips:

Before welding or doing other "hot work," inspect the area for combustible materials.

Before welding or doing other “hot work,” inspect the area for combustible materials.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is investigating the Thanksgiving Tower accident, so we do not know all of the details. But here are some general safety tips that apply to hot work, confined spaces and flash fires:

– Remember that some city fire codes require employers to get special permits to perform hot work. Even if yours does not, OSHA
encourages every employer to develop its own hot work permit system. Click here for a sample hot work permit.

– Train employees to work in confined spaces. Training should include evacuation procedures in the event of an emergency.

Test for flammable gases and other chemicals in the atmosphere before starting hot work.

– Separate hot work from flammable material. If that is not possible, use guards to confine the heat, sparks and slag, and to protect the immovable fire hazards.

– Make fire-extinguishing equipment, such as pails of water, buckets of sand, hoses and portable extinguishers immediately available and ready to use.

– Appoint a “fire watch” who is armed with fire-extinguishing equipment and is trained to use it. The fire watch should continue observing the work site for at least
30 minutes after completion of welding or cutting operations to detect and extinguish smoldering fires.

– Enforce the use of personal protective equipment, which could include fire-retardant clothing, flash suit hoods, insulating gloves, and eye, face and respiratory
protection.

Resources

OSHA’s Welding, Cutting and Brazing Web page

OSHA’s Welding, Cutting and Brazing Standard

National Fire Protection Association Hot Work Voluntary Standard

Confined Spaces Quick Card

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