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FACEValue: Farm mechanic dies after plasma torch explosion

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Case report: #2017/07/1
Issued by: Oregon Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program
Date of incident: March 21, 2017

On the day of the incident, a 46-year-old farm mechanic used a plasma torch to remove the lid from a 55-gallon drum that formerly contained flammable brake wash fluid. The drum was empty but had not been cleaned. The first cut with the torch caused a flash and explosion that blew off the bottom of the drum and knocked the mechanic unconscious. He died in the hospital three months later from a traumatic head injury. The victim had 25 years of experience working for his employer. He had worked his way up from field laborer to mechanic. It was reported that he was knowledgeable, experienced and proficient in using the plasma torch. However, no procedures were in place for the safe removal of drum lids in the farm’s written safety program records.

To help prevent similar incidents:

  • Never weld, cut or perform other hot work on a drum or other metal container unless it has been thoroughly cleaned and vented.
  • Use a non-sparking manual tool when removing a lid from a metal drum or barrel to further reduce the risk of ignition or explosion.
  • Routinely assess job hazards, and provide periodic training and communications on site-specific hazards and safe work practices. Take corrective action when needed.
  • Check and monitor employees’ knowledge of job hazards and implementation of safe practices to control those hazards.
  • Provide appropriate personal protective equipment and ensure it’s used correctly.

To download the full report, go to sh-m.ag/2yMYuJr.

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