Savar Upazila, Bangladesh- In 2013 of this week, the Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh collapsed, killing more than 1,100 garment workers, primarily young women, and injuring 2,500 others.
It was the largest industrial accident since 1984, when a gas leak at a factory in Bhopal, India, killed more than 3,500 people and exposed thousands more to toxic fumes.
Images of the Rana Plaza collapse caught the world’s attention and became a catalyst for corporate action on factory safety.
This led over 220 international brands to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a unique binding agreement that set up a monitoring and remediation system in the factories where the mostly European brands sourced from. Other brands, primarily from North America, joined the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.
Today, more of those buyers recognize that factory safety is important and that they will be held to account, and are being more transparent about publicly listing where they source their products.
Factories covered by the Accord and the Alliance are safer in part because they underwent a series of inspections, had plans to fix the problems identified, and those that didn’t comply were not allowed to work with member companies.
During those inspections, a litany of problems were identified. These included structural flaws, blocked fire exits, and a lack of fire doors and proper fire alarm and sprinkler systems. About 84 percent of those problems at Accord factories have been addressed, and 90 percent of issues at Alliance factories have been remediated. The Accord terminated 96 of its roughly 800 suppliers, and the Alliance 168 of its roughly 2,000. Millions of workers have been trained on safety procedures and safety committees have been formed at many factories.
We do our part in furthering training, education, and prevention of such tragedies.
Yallourn, Victoria, Australia – A fatal explosion at an Australian Power Station is said to have been the result of a phase-to-phase arc flash. A unit controller with more than 30 years’ experience was critically injured during the explosion in the southeastern-most state of Australia which lead to his death the next day.
EnergyAustralia has identified arc flash as the cause of the explosion at the Yallourn Power Station, however a local union representative is not confident in that explanation and staff at the power station say they are afraid to go to work.
Graeme Edwards died after a high-voltage circuit breaker he was working on exploded last month. Edwards was re-installing a high-voltage circuit breaker on one of the plant’s four generation units when the explosion occurred, a procedure known as “racking.” EnergyAustralia stated that racking is a routine job but potentially hazardous. In this case, the unit burst into flames that burnt most of Edwards’ body. The worker was flown to hospital in a critical condition but died a day later.
EnergyAustralia said it believed the “sudden electrical discharge” was caused by a “phase-to-phase arc flash.” However, they have yet to determine what caused the short circuit which is the source of union and worker worries about the safety of the workplace.
An Arc Flash is an electrical explosion due to a fault condition or short circuit when either a phase to ground or phase to phase conductor is connected and current flows through the air. Arc flashes cause electrical equipment to explode and can result in an arc-plasma fireball with temperatures in excess of 35,000° F. For reference, the surface of the sun is 9000° F. These extreme temperatures cause rapid heating of surrounding air and extreme pressures, resulting in an arc blast. The arc flash/blast can vaporize all solid copper conductors as they expand up to 67,000 times original volume. The arc flash produces fire, intense light, pressure waves, and flying shrapnel.
Yallorn Power Station workers will not be asked to use affect equipment involved in the incident until EnergyAustralia determines that it is safe to do so. An executive of Yallourn Power Station has said that risk assessments are being conducted and that all safety controls will be reviewed prior to resuming work.
A representative of the union which advocates for the workers at Yallourn Power station has voiced concerns that workers were not provided with the most up-to-date protective gear, including arc flash suits, similar to what bomb disposal workers use.
Wellington, New Zealand – An electric utility worker in New Zealand has been awarded more than $85,000 in compensation after suffering serious burns in an electrical arc flash while working at a Wellington substation in 2014. The heat of the arc flash was so severe that the man’s pants melted on his legs.
The electrical accident occurred when two Northpower employees were performing maintenance work on roadside transformers. A bracket fell onto live contacts, causing an electrical short and arc flash. In court, the injured man testified that he had pulled a transformer off a panel, and was then hit by the arc flash and flames.
The electrician, who was 20 when the accident occurred, described the pain, trauma and ongoing effects of the incident in court last week. “I pulled the transformer off the panel and all I could hear was myself screaming and the flames and the arc flash,” he told Wellington District Court on Thursday. “All I could feel was intense heat and there was me, running for my life.”
An Arc Flash is an electrical explosion due to a fault condition or short circuit when either a phase to ground or phase to phase conductor is connected and current flows through the air. Temperatures may exceed 35,000° F. For reference, the surface of the sun is 9000° F.
These high temperatures cause rapid heating of surrounding air and extreme pressures, resulting in an arc blast. The arc flash will likely vaporize all solid copper conductors which will expand up to 67,000 times their original volume when vaporized. An arc flash produces fire, intense light, pressure waves, and flying shrapnel any of which can cause electrical equipment to explode, resulting in injury or death to workers and destruction of electrical equipment.
When an arc flash happens, it does so without warning and is lightning quick. The result of this violent event is usually destruction of the equipment involved, fire, and severe injury or death to any nearby people. Proper safety and protection measures must be taken to limit the damage from an arc flash which include conducting an arc flash study, short circuit study, and NFPA 70E electrical safety training.
The court ruled that Wellington Electricity and Northpower failed to provide clear instructions to prompt workers to stop if they encountered increased risks or conditions; was responsible for not shutting off the power before work was undertaken; and for not documenting hazard assessments. The 2014 incident led to immediate changes in Northpower’s work practices, including a new approach to planning and risk assessment.
Toronto, CANADA – Last week, emergency crews were called to the Fiera Foods Company and Bakery factory. There they found a 23-year-old woman in life-threatening condition after being crushed by a machine. The worker was a part-time employee hired from a temp agency, and had been working at the factory for less than a month. A co-worker anonymously reported that the woman was injured after her hijab was caught in a conveyor belt. She died after being transferred to a local hospital.
The Ontario Ministry of Labour has since issued six orders for health and safety violations against Fiera Foods including requirements for assessing the conveyor line where the accident occurred, an order to provide an emergency control on the machine, and four other orders around the location and equipment involved in the woman’s death. Fiera is planning to initiate a review of their policies, procedures and safety systems.
Cotgrave, Nottinghamshire, England – An electrical fire in an industrial building in the East Midlands of England has devastated at least three area businesses. Investigators have found the blaze which tore through an industrial estate last week was caused by an electrical fire.
The fire severely damaged the large two-story building which housed six separate units. There were no reports of any injuries. Businesses on the estate included a dry cleaner, steeplejack, and a plastics firm.
Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service station manager Tom Clark stated: “We can now conclude that the fire was an electrical fire caused by one of the manufacturing processes in the building.” “There were also a couple of gas cylinders involved and there was a kerosene tank of 400 litres which needed protecting in the next building,” a fire spokesman said.
Many Cotgrave residents were out on the streets following the explosion, which sent a black smoke ring into the sky as smoke billowed from the buildings. Fire crews spent several hours tackling the inferno, which destroyed six units at the site.
Ray Hallam, owner of TVR Steeplejacks, saw his livelihood ruined as he surveyed the devastating scene – and said he had lost “literally everything.” The office where the renovations and repairs company was based has been completely gutted by the fire, destroying equipment, files and computers. The 65-year-old, who has run the family business for 15 years, said: “I’ve had to lay people off this morning because of this. I’ve had to contact customers because we’ve lost all our equipment, which was between £50,000 and £100,000-worth. It’s very upsetting.”
Other businesses affected by the blaze include Impressive Ironing and Cleaning Services and taxi firm DJM. Kirsty MacDonald, who set up Impressive four years ago and moved into the industrial site a year ago, said she was heartbroken. The 32-year-old, of Cotgrave, said: “That’s my livelihood gone, people’s jobs gone. We’ve lost everything. I was just in shock. After four years of effort to get it to where it was, for it to come to this was devastating…Everything’s just been blown apart.”
Western Australia – According to WA Department of Mines and Petroleum reports, two workers have been injured in an arc flash and blast incident in a West Australian underground mine. The workers, an electrician and mechanical fitter, were investigating water overflow issues at an unnamed site when the incident occurred.
During their shift, they came across a 90kW submersible pump, supplied from a 415 V motor control centre, that had faulted. The electrician found that a control relay contact had fused in the closed position and a control circuit breaker had tripped, causing the fault. The worker then replaced the control relay for the main contactor and reset the control circuit breaker. However, the electrician failed to properly secure the pump control cubicle door properly after closing it so that when he switched on the main circuit breaker it caused an instant arc flash and blast, blowing the cubicle door open.
The electrician received first degree burns to his neck, face, and ears, while the mechanical fitter also received a minor face injury.
According to a subsequent investigation the main circuit breaker suffered a phase-to-phase arcing fault, which started within the main circuit breaker terminal on the line side of the blue phase (which was shorted to earth), and then transferred to a three-phase fault. The DMP also found that the circuit was not designed to automatically disconnect the main breaker under an earth leakage or earth fault, and that the protection setting were not co-ordinated correctly, which caused the upstream breaker connected to the 415 V motor control centre to fail to operate.
It also found that the drawings did not match the actual electrical installation, “specifically the trip circuit of the motor overload protection had been bypassed, allowing the pump to operate under overload conditions”.
Morley, Australia – 2 energy workers were killed and 2 seriously injured this week in an explosion at Morley Galleria shopping center located in a suburb of Perth, Australia. Alan Cummins, age 30, was killed at the scene and Matt Hutchins, 22, died in Royal Perth Hospital shortly after the accident.
Employees of High Energy Solutions were performing routine maintenance near an electrical transformer. The exact cause of the explosion is as of yet unknown, but under investigation. Industry experts suspect that an arc flash blast caused the accident. The survivors are in intensive care recovering from burns and smoke inhalation at the Royal Perth Hospital. It has been reported that the injured are in critical condition, with burns to 60-80% of their bodies.
The mall was evacuated and closed temporarily due to power outage and emergency responders working to determine the extent of the accident and damage. Adjacent roads were also temporarily shut down.
In a statement released by High Energy Service Pty Ltd, general manager Brad Mitchell said: “This is a truly tragic day and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the deceased persons and those of the injured employees… We will be fully co-operating with all the relevant authorities in their investigations and will be conducting our own investigation. Our focus at this moment is supporting those injured people and their families and our other employees.”
Swansea, UK – A workman saved a fellow employee from electrocution by hitting him with a plank of wood. Learning safe release methods of shock victims is a required part of electrical safety training, one that may have saved Mark Bradley’s life.
Bradley, 50, was struck by a reported 11,000-volt shock when a metal lamppost he was installing hit overhead power cables.
Ade Savage tried to free him by pulling and punching him – but making contact with the shock victim made Savage part of the electrical circuit and he suffered shocks himself. Savage then used a method taught in shock victim release training – He used a plank of wood and hit Mark until he broke the grip of the current. Wood is an insulator of electricity, meaning electrical current does not pass through it so Ade was no longer affected by the electric shock.
Mark Bradley, from Gosport, Hants, was taken to the hospital with burns to his face and arms and blood coming from his ears. Ade Savage was also treated for burns after the accident at a Network Rail site in Basingstoke. An investigation is being carried out.
BAM Construction said: “We can confirm there was an accident on our Basingstoke site late on Monday afternoon, where we are working for Network Rail.
WorkSafeBC fined Great Canadian Casino 75,000 in relation to a fatal accident in November of 2011 that claimed the life of a worker at River Rock Casino Resort’s show theatre.
According to the most recent WorkSafeBC report detailing administrative penalties for health and safety violations, the worker was part of a team changing a motor on the show theatre’s automated seating system. When the motor was removed, the brake holding the seats in their upright position came off, sending the unsecured seats moving downward, striking the worker who fell through a gap in the floor to the concrete floor some 10 feet below. The employee died of his injuries.
“WorkSafeBC’s investigation found that the firm failed to securely cover or guard an opening in the floor that was a danger to workers. It also failed to secure equipment parts against inadvertent movement, which was a high-risk violation of lockout procedures required by the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation,” the report said.
“This was extremely tragic, extremely traumatic for the people involved,” Great Canadian Casino spokesperson Chuck Keeling said Friday morning. “This was something that was pretty jarring.”
Keeling said Great Canadian has been “fully cooperative with WorkSafeBC in terms of rectifying the oversights that led to this tragic consequence.”
Great Canadian “fully accepts” the report’s findings, Keeling said, and the company has “adopted all of their recommendations.”
According to WorkSafeBC’s report, the violations “show that the firm failed to provide its workers with the information, instruction, training and supervision needed to ensure their safety. This in turn was a repeated violation.”
The $75,000 fine was leveled against Great Canadian on Sept. 3.