Fatal Burns Caused by Methane Explosion in Confined Space

A man has been killed after suffering severe third-degree burns after the environment inside a methane gas dome he was working in ignited, causing an explosion.

Richard C. “Rick” Whitney Jr, a 58 year old from New York, was an employee of Joy Process Mechanical. He was welding a pipe inside the methane gas dome when the explosion occurred, injuring him severely and causing burns to the face and arms of a colleague nearby who was standing on a stepladder at the entrance to the confined space.

Despite being rushed to hospital, Richard’s burns were so severe that he died three days later in hospital. His colleague, Richard Sterling, was released from hospital the next day after the incident.

The explosion is believed to have been caused by using electrical equipment inside the confined space that was not suited for use in the area.  As methane is a highly combustible gas, extra precautions should have been taken to use equipment and methods of work that wouldn’t pose a risk to those working within the confined space.

Investigators from OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) found that the employers of Richard and Rick – Joy Process Mechanical and M. Hubbard construction – had failed to ensure safeguards and to train workers on the hazards associated with both methane gas and confined spaces. Neither employee was provided with a meter to indicate combustible gas presence and the confined space they entered lacked adequate ventilation and a retrieval system for rescuing those inside in the event of an emergency.

OSHA also found that Hubbard Construction had failed to use ladders correctly and cited for the use of electrical equipment not certified for use in a hazardous atmosphere.

The incident led to Joy Process Mechanical being issued with three serious citations (resulting in $14,700 in fines) and Hubbard Construction being cited with seven serious citations and $31,020 in fines.

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