A recent vapor explosion in Missoula, MT, has led to the death of one body shop employee and the injury of another. Both OSHA and the local Missoula fire department are investigating the tragic incident.
Two employees of Rick’s Auto Body were injured the morning of Aug 19, one fatally, after lacquer thinner fumes exploded in an enclosed area in the back of the shop.
Bruce Hall, 44, died early the following morning at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle from third-degree burns suffered over 95% of his body.
Missoula City Fire Marshal Gordy Hughes said the two workers were caught in the fire when static electricity caused paint fumes to ignite, and explode.
Hughes said two other employees rushed to the area after they heard someone yell fire, and doused the flames with a fire extinguisher.
The other man had minor burns and injuries related to inhaling fumes from the explosion, Hughes said. He was hospitalized then released.
Hughes said several items in the shop also caught on fire, but the auto body shop itself sustained minimal damage.
“We’ll be looking at things like what kind of protective system they have in place,” Hughes said.
Rick Booth, who owns Rick’s Auto Body, said the entire shop is devastated by the death of a co-worker.
Hall, who lived in Missoula, had worked at the shop for five years in the detail department and provided customers with rides when their vehicles were in the shop, Booth said. Customers were very fond of Hall, whom Booth described as a quiet guy who liked his job.
“It’s a tragedy,” Booth said. “It’s not what we expect to have happen when we come to work.”
He said he isn’t sure what OSHA or the fire department will be investigating, but said he assumes they are looking at what caused the elements to ignite. They may also be looking at a faulty piece of equipment, he said.
Booth said there may be a mechanical issue with part of the fan that shuts off when it senses fire. “I want to find out what it was, so we can fix the right thing,” Booth said.
Hughes said his inspectors would be looking into the ventilation system and other safety measures in the building. The fire department’s investigation won’t be completed until next week.
Hughes said Rick’s Auto Body is “not negligent as far as the fire department [is concerned.]”
He said that OSHA’s investigation to determine if the building’s safety code was up to standards will be released in a couple of weeks, and potentially an exhaust fan may be part of the issue.
While the shop had safety measures, including training, in place, management acknowledges that the ventilation and equipment is still being investigated.
There are a few things to retain from this incident:
● When transferring flammable liquids in a metal container, the container must always be grounded and bonded.
● When transferring flammable liquids, ensure it is being done away from potential ignition sources.
● Ensure all containers are capped when not being used.
● Just because many paints are now waterborne does not mean that paint operations are without hazards; most clearcoats are still very flammable.
● Employees must be trained on the workplace hazards of their work environment.
This tragic event is a reminder of the seriousness and significance that attention to safety has, particularly with paint and spray operations.