Industrial Safety

Is your plant as safe as it could be?

In the wake of several plant explosions, Mike Bacidore says give employee safety the attention it deserves.

By Mike Bacidore, chief editor

Remember when you were a little kid? For many of us, that seems like a long, long time ago. But, before there was a family of your own, before you had a job, before there was even school homework, there was you, at home in the middle of the day. Most likely your dad, and maybe even your mom, was off at that thing they called “work” and would be back home before dinner.

Those were the days of discovery. Do you remember that day you first found out there was more to air than you thought? The sunlight came streaming into your home between parted drapes, and you saw tiny specks floating around in it. You were amazed. This was not the invisible air to which you’d grown accustomed. This was supercharged air. And you couldn’t wait for your dad or mom to get home, so you could share this incredible knowledge.

Plant explosions don’t carry quite the same impact of social outrage.

As we got older, we learned that air is anything but nothingness. It’s abundant with molecules that are as rich and varied as the colors in a Rocky Mountain sunset. Sometimes, those molecules can cause spectacular results. Other times — for example, when combustible dust or chemicals ignite in an industrial plant — they can be devastating.

The Imperial Sugar plant explosion in Savannah, Georgia, that killed 14 people in 2008 and the Foxconn explosion in China in 2011 that claimed three lives grab the headlines, but there are lesser explosions that claim lives and injure others.

Mike Bacidore has been an integral part of the Putman Media editorial team since 2007, when he was managing editor of Control Design magazine. Previously, he was editorial director at Hughes Communications and a portfolio manager of the human resources and labor law areas at Wolters Kluwer. Bacidore holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is an award-winning columnist, earning a Gold Regional Award and a Silver National Award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at 630-467-1300 ext. 444 or or check out his .

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The Hoeganaes iron-powder plant explosion resulted in two deaths last year, as well. The commonly heard retrospectives of each of these catastrophes is that they all were preventable. And that’s what makes them unconscionable. If someone were gunned down on the street in cold blood, we would all wring our hands in despair that such an atrocity could happen in the world where we live. But plant explosions don’t carry quite the same impact of social outrage.

Those individuals immediately affected by plant explosions are left to grieve somewhat quietly and privately for their losses.

During the final week of May, two Midwest plants each lost a worker to an explosion. While their causes are yet to be determined, that bit of information will be of little comfort to the families who are now mourning their losses. This is not an indictment of the plants where these employees worked. I’m exceedingly certain the managers responsible for these facilities are shaken to the core by what has happened.

This isn’t about blame. This is, however, a reminder — no, a plea — looking forward, to give employee safety even further consideration. Discover the preventable and correct it.

While their co-workers will grieve the deaths of Neil Nicholson and Jon Maus, these men leave behind wives and children who were expecting them to come home from work that day, so they could share new discoveries with each other. That’s why safety matters.