Two workers at a waste-to-energy plant in Spokane, Wash., were injured after they were burned Tuesday at the trash incinerator.
City officials characterized the incident as a “serious accident” according to the The Spokesman-Review. They needed to be airlifted to a hospital in Seattle and were listed as in critical condition.
According to the newspaper:
“Both employees were inside of a boiler,” Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said. “They were doing routine maintenance, something that’s been done innumerable times in the past, for years. And a piece of very molten, hot remnants … vaporized with water and caused the burns.”
It’s unclear what went wrong. City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said the boiler had been shut off since Monday. Scott Simmons, the city’s public works director, said the workers had a combined 23 years of experience at the facility and were deeply familiar with its safety practices.
They were working in a confined space, with few other employees in the immediate vicinity, Simmons said. The boiler, one of two in the facility, remained out of operation Tuesday afternoon.
The Inlander reported that the facility had posted a strong safety record and even had received the highest federal safety designation available.
According to the story:
"Our employees have a great safety program. We just finished a run of four-and-a-half years without any kind of accident here, and then someone slipped or something like that," Conklin says. "These guys get it. They’re great at it and we have a great management team here."
In April, Conklin noted how dangerous steam is to his employees.
"Look, we're dealing with fire at 2,500 degrees," Conklin says. "Were dealing with steam pressure at 1,000 pounds. Steam pressure. If you have a leak in a pipe, at the temperatures and pressures we have here, it's not visible. You'll hear it. But you wouldn’t be able to see it. If you walk by it, it could do some real damage."
That steam can approach 900 degrees Fahrenheit and can reach 1000 pounds per square inch, Conklin says.
"There's rotating equipment — plenty of places to get burned," Conklin says. "The easiest thing you could possibly do is come here and get hurt, because there are so many ways to get hurt."
But traditionally, the plant's record has been solid. In March of last year, the plant received the federal "Voluntary Protection Program" STAR designation from the State Department of Labor & Industries, the highest worker safety and health designation available.
“Protecting the health and safety of our employees is a paramount concern," Mayor David Condon said in a press release at the time. "This designation represents our organizational commitment to safety.”
"VPP is a big deal. There are only about 1,800 businesses or workplaces in the United States that have achieved that. And that's because it's hard. It's difficult to get. We were the first municipal-run facility to get a VPP-star in the state of Washington."