Safety Tips FACE Reports

FACEValue: Boat repairman killed when battery explodes

NIOSH’s Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Reports

Date of incident: May 25, 2007

A 68-year-old boat repairman died from burns sustained in a fire caused by an exploding battery. The morning of the incident, the victim was alone in the service shop working on a customer’s boat. He was attempting to connect the battery to a charger at the time of the explosion. The explosion caused both the boat and the victim to catch fire. He was not wearing appropriate personal protective equipment or clothing. Passers-by saw the victim attempting to put out the fire and called 911. Paramedics arrived and transported the victim to a local hospital, where he later died from burns. The victim had worked for the small service, maintenance and sales shop for trailed boats for more than two years at the time of the incident. Although he had previous experience, the company had no documented safety or training programs available for its employees.

To prevent future occurrences:

  • Ensure employees follow documented battery-charging guidelines. Because charging batteries is a common task, workers may discount potential hazards. Hydrogen gas is formed when the battery charges, which can lead to fire or explosions. Train employees on proper and safe charging techniques.
  • Ensure employees’ clothing and safety apparel is appropriate for the work being done. Most manmade products such as nylon, acrylic or polyester will melt when ignited and produce a hot, sticky substance that can fuse to the skin and cause severe burns. In this case, the victim was wearing polyester clothing – inappropriate for the work being performed. The victim also should have been wearing PPE, including a face mask, goggles, an apron and gloves. Although this may not have prevented the incident from occurring, it may have significantly diminished the severity of the victim’s injuries.
  • Establish and maintain an illness and injury prevention program. In this case, the employer had no safety program in place for employees. Had a safety program been in place, the hazard might have been identified and eliminated before this incident occurred.
  • Establish and maintain training and testing programs that verify and document an employee’s achievement of skills. In this case, the employer had no documented training or testing program in place for employees.

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