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Explosions and workplace safety: train fire's vivid reminder

Workplace injuries and illnesses take many forms. Many of them, such as repetitive stress injuries, as insidious. They build over a long period of time, getting chronically worse and worse.

On the other side of the spectrum, of course, are fires, explosions and other sudden accidents that may be as spectacular as they are devastating.

As 2013 comes to a close, the news includes an explosive accident of that type. Yesterday's explosion of a train carrying a cargo of oil near the North Dakota oil fields is a vivid reminder that explosive, hazardous or toxic materials have important implications for both transportation and workplace safety.

Fortunately, no one was hurt in the derailment and explosion of the train transporting crude oil across North Dakota. But even on the sparsely populated prairie, the dangers of widespread calamity are real. The explosion occurred only a mile from a small town called Casselton, whose residents evacuated their homes as potentially harmful black smoke blew their way.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the accident.

For purposes of our workers' compensation blog, however, the significance of the Casselton conflagration goes beyond the transportation safety issue. It also recalls the types of workplace safety issues that were raised earlier this year following the disastrous explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas.

As we discussed most recently in our October 18 post, 15 workers died in that terrible accident. Though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued fines for safety violations, the amounts were paltry compared to the loss of life.

Maryland, like every other state, has its own challenges with monitoring dangerous chemicals in the workplace. As we discussed in our June 28 post, there have been several deaths in Maryland in the last decade due to toxic chemical exposure.

Source: Newsday, "Mayor: ND town dodged a bullet in crude explosion," Dec. 31, 2013

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