Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program
Three Workers Died Following a Propane Gas Explosion on a Quail/Pheasant Farm
Two Hispanic workers, ages 31 and 54, and the 57-year old owner of a quail and pheasant farm died from burn injuries received on August 4, 2003 following a propane gas explosion in a building where birds were kept. The owner of the farm was attempting to light a brooder* in one of the quail buildings when the explosion occurred. The two workers were moving quail from a delivery truck to the building at the time of the incident. They witnessed the explosion and immediately went into the burning building to pull the owner, who was unconscious, out of the building. After moving the injured owner to safety, one of the workers was overcome and lost consciousness as a result of injuries sustained during the rescue. The other rescuer ran to the house, which was about 50 yards away, to have the owner's wife call for emergency services. All three men were severely burned and also suffered from smoke inhalation. The rescuer who ran to get emergency aid died 8 days after the incident, the worker who lost consciousness at the scene died 34 days after the incident, and the owner died 57 days after the incident.
Oklahoma Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (OKFACE) investigators concluded that to prevent similar occurrences, employers should:
*A hooded device used to control air temperature for poults and chicks during the first several weeks of age.
The 57-year old owner of a quail and pheasant farm was severely burned in a propane gas explosion on August 4, 2003 while he was lighting a brooder in one of the quail buildings. Two Hispanic workers, ages 31 and 54, were also severely burned when they entered the burning building to rescue the owner. All three persons died within two months of the incident.
OKFACE investigators reviewed the death certificates, Medical Examiner reports, State Fire Marshal's report, and the investigating law enforcement officer's Uniform Incident/Offense Report. A site visit was conducted on September 25, 2003; OKFACE investigators interviewed law enforcement officials and a relative of the owner of the farm.
The farm housed quail and pheasant in approximately 20-25 buildings. The buildings were made of plywood and were approximately 1500 square feet. There were window openings at the top of the buildings and plywood panels on the sides of the buildings, which could be opened. Each building had three or four brooders. The owner of the farm and his wife were the only full time employees on the farm. The two workers, who were friends of the owner, had helped on the quail and pheasant farm from time to time for a couple of years. Their primary occupation was construction, and they had moved to the United States from Mexico a couple of years earlier. Spanish was their primary language, but they were able to speak broken English.
The quail and pheasant farm had no written comprehensive health and safety or training program for employees. The two workers had no formal training in the raising and handling of birds, other than the informal on-the-job training provided by the owner, and that training was not documented. The owner did not speak or understand Spanish.
On the day of the incident, the weather was clear and cool, and the working surfaces were dry. Very early in the morning, about 1:45 a.m., the owner and two workers were attempting to move quail from a delivery truck into a building where quail were kept. While the two workers started moving the quail cages from the truck, the owner entered the building and began lighting one of the brooders. The brooder had a metal deflector with a propane burner underneath and was used to keep the quail warm (Figures 1 and 2). The brooder's gas supply line appeared to be a regular pneumatic hose, which ran from the brooder, up to the ceiling, and outside to a 20 pound capacity portable propane tank (Figure 3). The propane tank was on a grassy area just outside the building wall (Figure 4). The hoses were attached and fitted with hose clamps similar to those used in automobile cooling systems.
As the owner began lighting the brooder, an explosion occurred engulfing the entire building in flames. Apparently the brooder had been left on unlighted, or the supply line had a leak. (The Fire Marshal could not conclusively determine the cause of the fire.) In either case, there was an accumulation of propane gas in the building. The two workers, who were moving the quail cages, saw the explosion and immediately ran to the aid of the owner. Without any fire suppression equipment or protection, they entered the burning building and pulled the owner to safety. One of the workers fell to the ground beside the owner and the other ran to the house, about 50 yards away, to alert the owner’s wife to call emergency medical services. They arrived in approximately 10 minutes.
All three men were transported to a nearby hospital and then transferred to a regional burn center. The worker who had run to the house to summon help died eight days after the date of the incident. The worker who was overcome after rescuing the owner died 34 days later, and the owner died 57 days after the incident.
Cause of Death
The Medical Examiner listed the cause of death for all three as burns or complications of burns.
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Recommendation # 1: Employers should develop written procedures for lighting, servicing, maintaining, and labeling all gas powered heating equipment.
Discussion: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards and manufacturer operating manuals provide guidelines for the safe operation of gas powered heating units. Employers should utilize these resources in the development of a formal procedure for lighting, servicing, and maintaining all natural gas powered heaters. In addition, warning signs should be prominently posted and signs or labels placed on gas controls, circuit breakers, thermostats, and/or controllers to caution workers to turn controls off when brooders are not actually in use. Portable fire extinguishers should also be available.
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