Chemical Plant Injury

At the Jeffrey Glassman Injury Lawyers, our chemical injury attorneys are committed to helping workers injured in chemical plant accidents to recover physically and financially, typically with workers' compensation benefits being the first available option.

Chemical plant operators are responsible for controlling or operating an entire chemical process or system of machines at big industrial facilities that manufacture or process chemicals, usually on a large scale (though some specialty chemical plants may be much smaller).

There are between 240 to 470 chemical plants Massachusetts (per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), manufacturing everything from ammonia to polymers. In addition to chemical engineers and chemical plant operators, these facilities also usually employ technicians, electrical engineers and support staff.

MGL c. 152 § 25A requires almost all employers in Massachusetts to carry workers' compensation insurance to cover employees injured on-the-job for medical expenses and a portion of lost wages (assuming they miss at least five days of work).

Regulatory Holes in Chemical Plant Safety

Chemical plants often use specialized, heavy equipment and materials that are extremely hazardous. Generally, chemicals are harmful in three ways:

  • Flammability
  • Reactivity
  • Toxicity

Workers at these facilities - and even sometimes people living in these communities - have an outsized risk of danger if something goes wrong. Employees must be well-trained and fully equipped to prevent disaster, but also respond quickly and effectively if something goes wrong.

Years ago, chemical plant layouts were somewhat haphazard, placing workers at high risk of injury on many fronts. Today, plants are designed by chemical engineers according to meticulous standards set forth by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). That has reduced the risk of chemical plant injury - but the dangers aren't eliminated.

In fact, risks may have risen in recent years. An in-depth series by a team of reporters with The Houston Chronicle and chemical safety experts with Texas A&M University (following a deadly chemical plant explosion there) revealed federal agencies responsible for inspections and investigation of safety at chemical facilities are poorly-funded. OSHA doesn't have many inspectors trained to check chemical facilities, and inspections don't typically happen unless there is an accident or complaint. Meanwhile, the Chemical Safety Board has a very small budget and staff, and its recommendations often go unheeded by federal agencies. That means the industry largely polices itself. Further, Obama-era regulations aimed at preventing such accidents have been rolled back.

Chemical Plant Explosions

Texas has a significant number of chemical plant injuries simply because it's larger and has more chemical plants overall. But Massachusetts has not been immune to such incidents either. A few in recent history include:

  • A 2006 chemical plant fire in Danvers at a plant owned by solvent and ink manufacturer CAI Inc., due to an unintentional overnight heating of an ink-mixing tank that contained flammable solvents. It damaged some 90 homes and other structures and left 400 people homeless.
  • A 2011 chemical plant explosion in Middleton at the Bostik Inc. plant (manufacturer of plastics and adhesives) injured four workers, with reverberations felt within a several-mile radius.
  • A 2016 explosion at a Dow Chemical plant in North Andover critically injured four workers. It involved a chemical called Tri Methyl Aluminum, used to make electronics. The chemical reportedly reacted to contact with water.
  • A 2016 chemical plant fire resulted in employee facial burns in a two-alarm fire in Norfolk at Camger Coating Systems, Inc. The worker had been mixing Class I flammable chemicals.

These are just incidents in recent memory. Historically, other incidents had been even more deadly.

Such incidents have four main causes:

  • Human error.
  • Improper training.
  • Manufacturing defects.
  • Improper maintenance.

Other potential catalysts include natural disasters, boilers improperly cared for, unseen corrosion, use of impure chemicals, poor labeling, well blowouts or careless smoking of cigarettes on site.

If these incidents and your injuries were caused by an individual or company who was NOT your employer (such as the manufacturer of a defective tool or product), you may have grounds to file a third-party personal injury lawsuit - in addition to your workers' compensation claim.

Other Chemical Plant Hazards

Chemical plant explosions tend to make headlines. They may cause some of the most serious or fatal injuries at these sites, but they aren't the most common threat to employees.

Some other every-day hazards include:

  • Slips, trips and falls;
  • Struck-by injuries;
  • Hit by vehicles (in loading/ unloading areas);
  • Cuts and scrapes;
  • Overexertion;
  • Chemical burns;
  • Allergic reactions to chemicals;
  • Asbestos exposure;
  • Inhalation of dangerous chemicals/ respiratory illness.

One danger that can't be overlooked is the potential for chronic or latent illness among chemical plant workers. One study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine examined cancer mortality rates among nearly 7,000 workers employed a minimum of three months at a chemical plant in Texas. They discovered a seemingly causal link between employment at the facility and a form of cancer known as lympho-reticulosarcoma, though couldn't pinpoint a common work assignment or area.

Chemical Burns

Chemical burn injuries are another serious - and far too common - occupational risk at chemical plants. As noted by The Mayo Clinic, chemical burns can be caused by a number of substances, from paint thinner to acids. Most often, workers are aware instantly of the injury and the cause. However, in some cases, chemical burns don't become apparent until hours later, which can complicate a workers' compensation claim. An experienced legal team can help make your case.

A burn is considered an emergency when it's:

  • Deep.
  • Covers an area larger than 3 inches in diameter.
  • Causes shock, indicated by pale complexion, fainting or shallow breathing.
  • Covers hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks or major joint.

The source of the burn should be immediately removed, including clothing or jewelry that is contaminated, and the skin flushed with cool, running water. Chemical plant employers should have a clear plan in place for responding to these emergencies, but unfortunately, some fall short.

Contact Jeffrey Glassman Injury Lawyers today for a free and confidential consultation.


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