Fatality Following Warehouse Ammonia Leak Raises Occupational Health and Safety Concerns

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Each year, thousands of employees suffer devastating injuries while at work. Many of these accidents could be avoided if employers complied with applicable federal and Massachusetts health and safety laws. According to these regulations, employers have a duty to maintain a safe job site. This includes fixing broken equipment or fixtures, providing appropriate safety protections, and ensuring that employees obtain appropriate training based on their job assignments and duties. Beyond the regulations, an employer can be held liable for injuries to its employees that are the result of its negligence or recklessness.

The Boston Globe recently reported that an ammonia leak at a Stavis Seafood warehouse in South Boston has resulted in the death of one of the company’s employees. The four surviving employees stated that they smelled ammonia toward the final hour of their shift, engaged the emergency shut off valve, and attempted to exit the warehouse as quickly as possible. The fifth employee working that night, however, did not survive. Reports indicated that the ammonia fumes were so severe that firefighters and hazmat crew members were unable to enter the building upon arriving at the scene.

An investigation into the cause of the accident revealed that the leak came from a ruptured metal pipe located on the second floor of the building, which is primarily used for cold storage. The investigation has not yet revealed what caused the one-and-a-half-inch pipe to rupture. The ammonia is used as part of the company’s transportation of seafood. The building included a tank containing roughly 5,400 pounds of ammonia.

According to records, the company had received fines from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) totaling thousands of dollars regarding how it handled its ammonia storage tank and distribution. In 2009, for example, the company received 15 citations for serious violations totaling over $47,000 for deficiencies in its process safety management program. OSHA issues serious violations only when the employer’s or company’s activities could result in death or serious physical harm.

If you have suffered injuries while at work, you can file a workers’ compensation claim to receive benefits for your damages. According to this system, an injured employee is barred from bringing a civil action against the employer, except for a few limited exceptions. After initiating a claim, the injured worker will undergo medical examinations, and the insurance company will evaluate his or her claim.

Depending on the outcome of this initial investigation, the injured worker will be awarded benefit payments based on the nature and scope of his or her injuries. In the event of an employee’s death, the workers’ compensation system provides death benefits to the decedent’s dependent family members.

At the Law Offices of John S. Moffa, our team of seasoned workers’ compensation lawyers has the dedication and tenacity you need to pursue the maximum amount of benefits that you and your family deserve during this painful time. We proudly serve victims throughout Massachusetts and provide a free consultation to help you learn about the workers’ compensation system and the course of legal action that may be right for you. Call us at 1-508-362-5554 or contact us online to schedule your appointment.

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