SERT responds to Indiana tragedy

Two L-374 members die in coal plant explosion

DANNY TURNER AND DAVID SHOEMAKER, both members of Local 374 (Hammond, Ind.), were presumed killed April 28 when a faulty flange resulted in a synthetic gas explosion at SG Solutions, a coal gasification plant north of Terre Haute, Ind.

Turner and Shoemaker were working for Sterling Boiler on the eighth deck of a coal gasifier — about 150 feet in the air — when the explosion occurred.

Shortly after the accident occurred, Boilermaker Health & Safety Specialist Mark Garrett and members of the Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) were in Indiana assisting the local lodge and the families of the members killed. SERT provides rapid response legal assistance for Boilermakers affected by catastrophic accidents on the job.

Available to all U.S. local lodges, SERT helps the local lodge preserve evidence and investigate the accident, while also assisting the families of affected Boilermakers with any legal issues that arise. SERT services are provided by the law firm of Becker, Galanti, Schroader, and Chapman, PC.

When catastrophic accidents occur, a rapid response is critical for gathering and preserving all evidence that can help investigators understand what happened. In addition, the families of members killed or severely injured often need immediate assistance with legal matters arising from the accident. Local lodges are encouraged to contact SERT as soon as a catastrophic accident occurs. Notify your International rep and phone 888-717-SERT (888-717-7378).

What caused the accident?

TWO QUESTIONS SERT will help the local lodge and family members determine are exactly what caused the accident and could it have been prevented.

According to reports published shortly after the accident occurred, the two men were tightening bolts on a flanged opening (similar to a manhole cover) when the flange failed, causing the explosion.

According to plant manager Richard Payonk, when the flange failed, it released synthetic gas at 400 pounds of pressure per square inch — “a fairly violent release,” he said. Company officials were able to shut down the plant within five minutes of the explosion and purged gas from its system. Workers were sent to a nearby community, and counselors were brought in to console them. “There was no adverse impact or effect to the local community, even within a half mile of the facility,” Payonk said.

Cause of the flange failure is not known at this time. It was the first fatal accident at the facility, which began commercial operation in 1995. Both SERT and Sterling Boiler are conducting investigations.