Mismatched parts pose risk

October 1, 2008 By    

We recently resolved an industrial accident for a client on the East Coast that involved a propane cylinder used in a forklift application. The case resulted in injuries to two employees at a warehouse who worked for different employers.

John V. McCoy
John V. McCoy

On the morning of the accident, one of the injured plaintiffs went to get a replacement cylinder for the empty cylinder on his forklift. He went to a storage rack in the alley behind the warehouse. The cylinders and rack were on site through a contractual arrangement with the propane supplier, our client. This employee had never been trained on the safe and proper use of forklifts and propane cylinders as required by OSHA. He also was not an employee of the company that had the contract with the propane supplier.

The contract between the warehouse and the propane supplier prohibited the use of the propane cylinders on site by anyone not properly trained or directly employed by this company.

The warehouse employees also had a practice of turning cylinders, with the valve facing the wall, if they leaked. This was never communicated to the employee who went to get a replacement cylinder on the day of the accident. He could not remember what direction the cylinder he selected was facing when he grabbed it. He does not recall that it leaked.

When he went to install the new cylinder on his forklift, it began to leak. He attempted to stop the leak by turning the handle on the cylinder valve to the off position, but this was not successful. The plume of gas being emitted from the leak shot at least six feet in all directions. Since he could not get the leak to stop, he went to get the warehouse supervisor to help. This took about five minutes. They both returned, and an eyewitness also was present. Efforts were made to shut off the leak but were unsuccessful. The untrained worker then stepped into the forklift and attempted to turn it on. There was a factual dispute as to why this occurred.

Because there was a strict product liability claim, the negligence of the injured plaintiffs could only be of value if there was an eminent danger. Our view was that this was an eminent danger, and there was some favorable testimony to support this position.

A detailed analysis of the valve on the cylinder included an X-ray of the valve. It demonstrated that the stem on the valve did not properly seat and thus the back check valve on the cylinder did not activate to prevent a leak as designed. The reason is that the valve body was a RegO/ECII and the hand wheel and stem that was inserted into the valve was made by Sherwood. The mismatch of these parts did not allow for activation of the back check valve to stop the leak. This is not something that was obvious, as the valve appeared to fully close when turned to the off position before the instant loss. Only an X-ray of the stem in the valve revealed this hazard.

RegO/ECII has now issued a notice that there should not be a mismatching of parts on its control valves, to avoid this type of risk. Given this notice, we recommend you check your cylinder valves to be sure the parts on these valves are not mismatched.

Be proactive and avoid risk. Here is a simple way to do exactly that.

John V. McCoy is the president of McCoy & Hofbauer, S.C. and specializes in the representation of propane companies. He can be reached at 800-599-8300 or jmccoy@mh-law.us.

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