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Worker Killed in Wood-dust Fire Sparked by Faulty Fuse

Oregon Case Report

On August 11, 2003, a 50-year-old production worker was seriously burned, and died 5 days later, from a fire that resulted when wood dust exploded at a wood-flour mill. On the previous day, the worker was shown a makeshift fuse that had been installed in the fuse box. A nonrenewable cartridge fuse had been repaired by taping a renewable fuse element to the outside. The worker pulled out the fuse and inspected it, then replaced it in the fuse box. On the day of the incident, an explosion occurred when the worker started up the machines in the mill for the morning shift. The makeshift fuse generated a spark on startup, which ignited wood dust that had settled in the fuse box. The first explosion raised clouds of dust, which also exploded. At least three explosions in succession carried the fire to the adjacent storage area where the production worker was standing alone. He sustained second- and third-degree burns to his upper body and arms, and breathed toxic, superheated air. When the local fire department arrived, the victim was awake, alert, and oriented. He was transported to a local hospital, and transferred to the Oregon Burn Center for treatment, where he later died.

On August 11, 2003, a 50-year-old production worker was seriously burned, and died 5 days later, from a fire that resulted when stored wood flour exploded at a wood-flour mill. OR-FACE was notified of the incident on August 19, 2003. An OR-FACE investigator interviewed the fire department battalion chief and deputy fire marshal in person on August 27, 2003. A registered consulting engineer with a mechanical specialty conducted an investigation for the insurer. Oregon OSHA also investigated the incident. This report is based on materials obtained from fire authorities, plus reports from the insurance investigation, OR-OSHA, and the medical examiner.

The employer is a wood-flour mill that grinds paper-mill waste into a fine powder, and bags and stores it as a marketable product for a variety of industrial applications. The building where the incident occurred was built to older construction standards, and not for the purpose for which it was presently used. A structural modification violated the National Electrical Code (Class II/Div. 1) by exposing the fuse-panel room to combustible dust. In addition, a rubber seal on the fuse box intended to prevent dust from penetrating the box was not in place. Most of the electrical equipment in the factory was old and not up to code, making replacement parts difficult to obtain. The general manager, located in another state, was aware of the antiquated equipment at the mill, but was unaware of applicable safety regulations. The last documented safety inspection at the mill was in 2000.

Three employees worked at the mill, running two shifts at the time of the incident. The employees had worked together at the mill for 9 years. They did not maintain a safety program, or perform safety training or routine inspections to identify hazards related to the building, machinery, or operations. None were trained in applicable safety regulations that apply to wood-flour manufacturing. All three workers made repairs to equipment, including electrical equipment, for which they were not specifically trained or supervised.

One year prior to this incident, a worker was killed in a similar explosion and fire at an adjacent wood-products factory. Dust explosions are a known hazard in wood-products and other organic materials manufacturing that produce dust particles.



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