Yesterday’s coal dust silo explosion at We Energies’ Oak Creek power plant injured six employees preparing to perform repairs inside the structure. The injured employees work for ThyssenKrupp Safway, a company that provides scaffolding services. ThyrssenKrupp Safeway was reportedly hired as a subcontractor by United States Fire Protection, a New Berlin firm that provides fire protection services. One of the employees remains hospitalized in critical condition.
Employees of We Energies who work in a coal dust silo likely are familiar with the danger of working with coal dust, and the explosive properties of coal dust. It is less likely that employees of a company brought in to erect scaffolding for repairs in the silo are familiar with these dangers of working around coal dust. As the injured employees here worked for a subcontractor of a subcontractor, questions need to be asked about whether these employees were properly warned about the dangers. Presumably, OSHA and others will look into these questions.
Civil lawsuits are quite likely available to the injured workers. Injured workers usually are barred from suing over workplace injuries by the Workers Compensation Act. Thus, while the workers may be precluded from suing their own employer, they will not be barred from suing United States Fire Protection or We Energies if those firms failed to use reasonable care to warn of the risks of working around coal dust.