Sewer Administrator Died When Chop Saw Spark Caused a 55-Gallon Drum to Explode, Michigan

Michigan Case Report: 10MI032
Report Date: 10/27/2011


In the Spring of 2010, a male township sewer administrator in his 50s died when a spark from a 14-inch chop saw entered a funnel that was used pour waste oil and other liquids into a 55-gallon drum, causing the vapors in the drum to ignite and the drum to explode. The chop saw the decedent was using to cut re-rod was located approximately two feet from the 55-gallon drum and was within 10 feet of a parts washer that contained lacquer thinner. The waste drum and another 55-gallon drum containing new motor oil were on a rack adjacent to the chop saw. Both barrels were lying horizontally on the rack, approximately 2-1/2 feet above the floor. The waste oil drum had a facet in one bung hole and the other larger hole had a firm-made 2-inch diameter spout, which extended approximately 2 inches and then turned upward at a 90-degree angle for approximately 8 inches. At the end of the spout there was an open funnel used for pouring liquids into the drum. The funnel height was approximately at the same level as the saw. The decedent had cut a piece of re-bar and had placed it on the ground against the building’s overhead door rail track when the explosion occurred. Another employee had just arrived and was burned as a result of the explosion. Nearby businesses heard the explosion and saw the fire and called for emergency response. Emergency response arrived and transported the decedent to a nearby hospital where he died later that day.


  • A competent employee should survey work areas to ensure flammables and combustibles are stored appropriately and are not located in the area where spark-producing equipment is used.
  • Townships should utilize both in-house and external resources, such as building inspectors, fire departments, county departments, insurance risk managers, and MIOSHA Consultation, Education and Training (CET), to assist in identifying health and safety issues, such as flammable/combustible material storage and then develop and enforce control measures for these issues.
  • The township should develop and implement a health and safety management system which includes a written health and safety plan, hazard analysis, and employee training for each township department.
  • Employers should ensure drums containing flammable or combustible products are properly grounded when pouring flammable/combustible liquids into them and that the pouring containers are appropriately bonded to minimize static electricity buildup. If a funnel is used to pour flammable/combustible materials into another container, the funnel should be equipped with a flame arrestor and properly bonded.
  • The water and sewer district should develop a standard operating procedure (SOP) for emptying the waste drum.
  • Fire Departments should review business/government agency-supplied hazardous materials data, prioritize this information, and conduct proactive site visits to assist in preventing a fire incident.

Sewer Administrator Died When Chop Saw Spark Caused a 55-Gallon Drum to Explode, Michiganpdf icon [PDF 249 KB]

Page last reviewed: March 16, 2020