The “why” in the explosion that killed 15 contractors at BP's refinery in Texas City, Texas, on March 23 is still a mystery, but the focus has shifted to the “where.” Many of the contract workers who died were in or near a trailer that was less than 150 feet from the vent stack at the center of the blast, raising safety concerns about trailer placement in industrial sites. Maintenance contractors are guests in the owner's house, so you probably won't have the final say in where to park your office, but you owe it to your employees to explore your options.
Lay of the land. There's no time like the pre-job meeting to put the issue on the table. George Yoksas, area director of OSHA in Milwaukee, suggests inquiring about the layout of the industrial neighborhood. How close will you be to high-traffic areas? Where will your trailer be with respect to emergency evacuation routes? What locations have been classified as hazardous? “There should be no surprises once you get on-site,” Yoksas says.
Unseen dangers. Get the specifics on your new home. Some environmental dangers, like overhead power lines, may be obvious, but others, like the likely path of released gas or vapors, aren't. So it's not unreasonable to ask if the facility has conducted plume mapping to predict danger zones that might otherwise appear safe.
Take a hike. Being safe may mean being remote, but a long walk to work in the morning is better than the alternative, says Tom Broderick, executive director of the Construction Safety Council. “Basically, you have to ask yourself one question,” he says. “‘Why would I put my people in harm's way just to save a few steps?’”