A worker from an outside company was severely burned after he stepped into molten zinc while installing an exhaust duct. Inadequate instruction about the hazards of the equipment and a lack of safety warnings and devices contributed to the accident.

The worker was tasked with installing a duct to exhaust high-temperature gases from equipment that held a zinc-plating bath. A maintenance foreman showed the worker where to install the duct, then left him to complete his task.

The worker needed to use a forklift to reach part of the installation. To get closer to his work, he stepped off the forklift and climbed on the base of the equipment.

He stepped onto the seemingly solid platform where he had previously placed a tool without a problem. It was actually a thin crust of zinc oxide that had formed over the bath of molten zinc. His right foot immediately broke through the crust. Then, as he attempted to free himself, his left foot and buttocks also touched the molten zinc, sustaining serious burns.

Another worker was able to free the injured man. The two tried to wash off the molten zinc, but there was only a small amount of water available nearby. The delay in flushing the metal from the skin exacerbated the worker’s injuries.

The worker had not been told what was in the tank or that the molten zinc forms an apparently solid crust that does not bear weight. There were no warnings on the equipment to alert him to the tank’s contents or hazards. Nor were there any guards around the equipment.

The incident resulted in several OSHA citations: The worker should not have been allowed to use the forklift without training; he should not have been allowed to work alone without being trained in the hazards of the work area; a guardrail or cover should have guarded the tank whether it was filled or not; and there should have been functioning safety showers near the zinc bath.

This month’s safety violation comes from the files of Lanny Berke, a registered professional engineer and Certified Safety Professional involved in forensic engineering since 1972. Got a safety violation to share? Send your images and explanations to jessica.shapiro@penton.com.

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.