Last summer, five Georgia workers who were employed at an aluminum company suffered serious injuries during a sudden steam explosion. These types of injuries are not uncommon in industries that specialize in casting molten metal, but are still dangerous and in some cases, deadly. Fortunately, employees who are injured in workplace explosions can recover through the state’s workers’ compensation program, which provides compensation for medical bills as well as lost wages. Navigating the workers’ compensation program can be difficult and time-consuming, so if you were recently injured while on the job and have questions about your own eligibility for workers’ compensation, it is critical to speak with an experienced Augusta workers’ compensation attorney who can explain your legal options.
Steam explosions occur whenever water, moisture, or another type of liquid comes into contact with molten metal. In the aforementioned case, workers were conducting a process known as casting, which involves turning molten metal into elongated shapes that are then used as construction materials. During the casting operation, molten aluminum is transferred from the furnace, via trough, to specially designed molds, which are located on a hydraulic table above a 26 foot deep pit. Aluminum then flows into the molds, where it is sprayed with water to help it cool and harden.
In the event of a power outage, an operator typically aborts the casting process, which stops the flow of aluminum. A sump pump is also supposed to activate when water reaches 14 feet in the pit to keep it from coming into contact with the molten metal. Finally, alarms are programmed to go off if water levels in the pit go over 16 feet. In this particular case, a power outage caused the pump sumps to fail and kept the alarms from being triggered. However, the power outage was limited to the circuit that controlled the casting process, so the overhead lights and furnaces continued to operate, leaving employees unaware of the problem. Furthermore, although the alarms were powered by battery backups, they still failed to activate.
On the day of the explosion, an employee opened the gate allowing the molten metal to flow into the pan, but because the water in the pit had overflowed as a result of the pump sump failure caused by the power outage, water was in the pan when the metal reached it. The water was then encased by the molten metal and turned into steam, which caused an explosion so violent that a part of the roof was blown off of the building.
Although the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) did not find evidence of any violations, it did recommend that the company take specific actions, including:
- Ensuring that a cast operator continuously monitors the control panel and does not take part in any activities that could draw attention away from the screen;
- Installing a gravity drain in the pit at 20 feet to ensure that water stays at a safe level; and
- Installing a backup sump pump to ensure that the water level is kept below 14 feet in the event of a power outage.
Employees at the plant also suggested upgrading their pump sumps, procuring a generator, and installing an emergency drain in the pit. These types of steam explosions are extremely violent, so it is especially important for foundry employers to institute specific safety procedures and to provide protective equipment for employees.
Workers employed in the metalworking industry are at an increased risk of suffering from catastrophic injuries caused by explosions. Fortunately, injured parties can collect compensation when they were injured on the job through the state’s workers’ compensation program, which will pay for the following costs:
- Doctor bills;
- Hospital bills;
- Physical therapy;
- Prescription medications; and
- Travel expenses.
Injured parties can also receive weekly income benefits for a period of time, which is based on the type of injury. For instance, employees who sustain a catastrophic injury, such as paralysis, a severe head injury, burns, or amputation and so are unable to perform their prior work will receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage for as long as they are unable to return to work. However, the wage will be capped at $575 per week. Those who sustain non-catastrophic injuries are also entitled to receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage, up to $575, for as long as they are totally disabled, but only for 400 weeks. Employees who are eventually able to return to work, but can only secure employment that is lower paying can continue to receive a weekly benefit of up to $383 per week for up to 350 weeks. Finally, in the tragic event that a worker dies while on the job, his or her surviving dependents will receive burial expenses totaling $7,500 as well as two-thirds of the employee’s weekly wage. A widowed spouse will be paid a maximum of $230,000 if he or she has no children.
Contact us Today to Speak With an Experienced Workers’ Compensation Attorney in Augusta, Georgia
At Ted A. Greve & Associates, P.A., we understand that sustaining an injury at work is both painful and frightening. Many injured parties struggle to pay their medical bills and household expenses, which can create an added layer of stress to an already difficult situation. However, workers who were injured on the job may be able to collect workers’ compensation benefits, which can help cover these costs until they get back on their feet. Filing a claim or reaching a settlement with an employer’s insurer can be frustrating and time-consuming, so we dedicate ourselves to helping our clients navigate this complex process by providing them with sound legal advice and aggressively representing their interests. If you live in Augusta and were injured on the job, please contact a member of our legal team by sending us a brief message or by initiating a live chat with a skilled Augusta, GA workers’ compensation attorney who can help you set up an initial consultation.