Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Pennsylvania worker burned in third plant fire since August

Hazards in an Allegheny County workplace can be invisible. Employees may be unaware that a toxic or volatile substance is in the air they breathe or enveloping their clothes and skin. One spark from a tool or machine could touch off a blast or fire, endangering one person or everyone nearby.

An eastern Pennsylvania man was the only person inside a Berks County company's pump house, when a fire and explosion occurred. The Wolfe Dye & Bleach Works near Shoemakersville had been the scene of three fires in just four months. The latest was a flash fire, apparently caused by a worker using a lighter.

The employee's clothes were on fire as he ran from the building, across a road where a motorist spotted him. The passerby stopped and forced the burning 47-year-old victim into a snow bank. A firefighter said it appeared burns covered the worker's upper body and head.

Local fire officials weren't sure what the employee was trying to light. Emergency personnel know the man dropped tools he was using, before running from the plant following the explosion.

The company had not completely repaired the plant damage from two earlier fires, before the third blaze erupted. An electrical fire in August fire caused nearly $3 million in property damage. Investigators haven't figured out what set off the second fire at the beginning of November, just weeks before the pump house worker was burned.

Some chemicals are only valuable in industrial settings while in a dangerous state, although their use and containment are well regulated. Pennsylvania employers are expected to train workers to identify and handle chemicals safely, while wearing the appropriate protective gear. Businesses also are required to prepare emergency plans and stock appropriate equipment in case of fires, explosions or other chemical accidents.

Employers that fail to adhere to safety rules can be fined and subject to liability claims.

Source: Reading Eagle, "Man Burning as He Ran From Fire at Pa. Plant" Steven Henshaw, Dec. 22, 2013

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