For employees working with hazardous substances, an oversight can be disastrous - an unfortunate lesson learned by six Florida workers at a Blue Rhino propane tank refurbishing facility in Taveras, Florida who were injured during a fire.

How it happened

On July 29, 2013, as night-shift workers prepared tanks for paint removal in a storage yard, a worker called in a forklift to move some tanks. The forklift was not explosion-proof*, so it created a spark that ignited propane vapor and nearly 600,000 pounds of propane. A fireball swept through the storage facility, injuring six workers and severely burning four.

OSHA and Ferrellgas LP, doing business as Blue Rhino, signed a settlement agreement on Dec. 7, 2015 that resulted in the affirmation of nine serious and six other-than-serious citations. Blue Rhino agreed to pay penalties totaling $52,000. Additionally, the agreement requires Blue Rhino to complete the abatement of all hazards within 60 days of signing the settlement.

“This settlement is an important step toward protecting these workers and ensuring that all employers are monitoring and removing hazards from the workplace,” said Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA’s regional administrator in the Southeast.

Failed to follow PSM standards

An OSHA investigation on July 30, 2013, found that Blue Rhino failed to use an explosion-proof forklift in an area where employees were actively venting propane from tanks; failed to follow process safety management standards for the individual propane tanks amassed in the storage yard; failed to provide process safety management training for employees on propane hazard alarms; and failed to ensure workers used personal protective equipment.

A leading propane tank exchange brand, Blue Rhino distributes propane at approximately 875 U.S. locations. The company also designs and markets barbecue grills, outdoor heaters, mosquito traps and outdoor appliances. Founded in 1939 and based in Overland Park, Kansas, Blue Rhino is a subsidiary of Ferrellgas Partners LP.