A gas explosion is the result of a gas leak that has combined with an ignition source. Many gas vapors are heavier than air resulting in gases pooling low to the ground instead of dispersing into the atmosphere. Equipment or pipes, buildings or offshore facilities, enclosed or open spaces all can harbor a gas explosion.
Gas explosions can cause devastating, catastrophic, and, oftentimes, fatal thermal burn injuries to anyone in the vicinity. They often cause flash burns because of their high intensity and brief duration but can also cause flame burns when the intense heat ignites clothing or nearby materials. Gas explosion often occur in industrial or agricultural settings, but because many people use natural and propane gas in and around the home, the risk of burn injury in a domestic situation is high as well.
Gas explosions occur most frequently in workplace environments, particularly industrial or agricultural settings. They are often the result of code violations or violations of standards or safe practices.
Code violations: The Occupational Safety and Health Act, administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), was enacted to protect workers by assuring safe and healthful working conditions. To accomplish this goal, OSHA requires that employers abide by certain safety and health standards. Additionally, the General Duty Clause—section 5—requires each employer to provide a workplace “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
Exact regulations can vary state-by-state because OSHA permits states to create their own safety requirements provided they are at least as effective as the federal requirements. Twenty-five states, as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies which have been approved by OSHA. While these standards have slight variations, they are largely identical to the federal standards.
Violations of standards or safe practices: OSHA’s Directorate of Technical Support (DTS) periodically issues Safety and Health Information Bulletins (SHIBs) which detail procedures and practices that can improve safety and health in the workplace. SHIBs are advisory in nature and do not create new standards or regulations that companies are obligated to follow. Despite their informality, they are selected from recognized scientific, industrial hygiene, labor, industry, engineering, and/or medical sources and are a great resource to help promote workplace safety. Check out OSHA’s SHIB directory to find the best safety practices for your profession.
Workers compensation is a topic that naturally arises when discussing gas explosions because of the high percentage of gas explosions that occur at the workplace. Workers compensation acts as a type of insurance that covers employees—and in some cases their families—by providing monetary awards if the employee is injured or disabled while on the job.
Workers compensation laws are controlled at the state level. For federal employees, workers compensation is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor. The complexities of these processes are explored further in the Workers Compensation section.