UPDATE: Spokane, WA has been fined $59,400 by the state's Department of Labor and Industries for 10 serious violations related to the October 2016 injuries of two employees at the city's waste-to-energy facility, as reported by The Spokesman-Review.
Violations included a failure to monitor the temperature of material being removed from the facility's boiler, lack of proper training for performing a rescue in the boiler and failure to notify the local fire department that maintenance would be taking place. Both employees were badly burned and those injuries could have possibly been less severe if additional rescue procedures were in place. One employee has since returned to work on light duty.
The city has changed its procedures to remove waste material with controlled detonations so workers don't have to climb inside the boiler. A consultant has also been hired to conduct an internal review of facility operations. Spokane has two weeks to appeal the violations and is expected to demonstrate that they have been addressed by April 26.
- Two men are in critical condition after suffering severe burns from steam at the City of Spokane, WA's waste-to-energy plant on Tuesday morning. Both men are employees at the facility.
- Officials told The Spokesman-Review that the men were repairing a pinhole in a water pipe, which is heated by burning garbage to produce steam. There is little information as to what exactly went wrong.
- Joe Cavanaugh, president of Spokane's labor union Local 270, said employees take safety very seriously and praised safety measures at the waste-to-energy plant.
While it'd be easy to blame this incident on carelessness or a lack of focus on safety, city officials have made a point that all possible safety measures were followed before and after the accident.
"Both employees were inside of a boiler ... They were doing routine maintenance, something that’s been done innumerable times in the past, for years. And a piece of very molten, hot remnants … vaporized with water and caused the burns," said Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer told The Spokesman-Review.
This unfortunate incident is a reminder that, even while following the most detailed safety measures, the industry presents dangers out of the controls of employees. Fellow workers handled the incident "exactly as they should have, as we would expect them to" said Schaeffer, which is a reminder of the importance of employee training in the case of an emergency. Additionally, this accident may be an indication that other waste facility operators should increase the use safety gear such as gloves, goggles and suits to prevent such injuries moving forward.