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Workplace Explosions in Midwest. Can They Happen Here?

New York City workers may believe that explosions like those that occurred in Omaha and in Oklahoma could not happen in NYC. However, they are wrong. New York has many manufacturing facilities where dangerous chemicals and improper maintenance could result in workplace explosions.

The explosions occurred at an animal feed plant and at a steel plant. At least four people died and almost a dozen suffered injuries s a result of the incidents. Two workers were killed in the Omaha explosion, and two others died in the Oklahoma incident, probably burned to death, according to law enforcement. A furnace apparently exploded in the Oklahoma accident. In the Nebraska explosion, the building collapsed after the explosions.

Explosions such as these may no longer occur in New York City workplaces, if only because there are few facilities that have significant amounts of grain dust in the air – a primary cause of explosions in feed plants. However, long gone manufacturing facilities have left a legacy of environmental pollutants. Additionally, there’s a nuclear power plant just upriver. Across the Hudson, Camden, New Jersey, holds the distinction of being named the most dangerous city in America.

Camden is dangerous not only because of its high murder rate. It is also a dumping ground for what The Nation magazine called “the physical refuse of post-industrial America.” There is a huge trash burning plant, a cement plant and a scrap metal shredding operation – all of which create significant workplace hazards as well as a general environmental nightmare.

Even more than 100 years after the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, in which many hundreds of workers burned because the exit doors were locked by management, similar situations continue to occur. A fashion chain store was recently cited by OSHA for the second year in a row for blocking exits and aisles with clothing racks. There was recently a exploding manhole in midtown Manhattan caused by a malfunctioning electrical transformer. A few years ago, a laundry in Crown Heights exploded when someone mixed acid and bleach.

Despite its lack of agri-business facilities, New York City workplaces are still vulnerable to explosions.

Source: Reuters, “Four killed as explosions rip through plants in two U.S. states,” Jan. 21, 2014.