When a residential water heater used in lieu of a commercial boiler exploded in a plastics factory in 2009, two people were killed. The former manager of the Solus Industrial Innovations plant and the maintenance supervisor for the facility were charged with felonies related to the workplace accident.

On Feb. 14 the two men pleaded no contest to charges related to the installation of a residential hot-water heater in the facility. Sentencing includes 250 hours of community service the payment of $450,000 to the victims’ families. In addition, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued several fines totaling $98,800.

The accident occurred on Mar. 19, 2009 when the water heater exploded. The plant had relocated to California from Pennsylvania two years prior, and reports say that plant leaders felt pressure to get the factory running quickly. An industrial-grade boiler was already on location, but would have required a natural gas line put in and permits to operate. Instead, the former manager approved the idea to buy and install a $541.66 electric water heater.

The electric water heater had safety measures to prevent an explosion. However, an automatic shutoff feature was disabled because the plant needed water hot enough to melt plastic. Also, in October 2008, a relief valve blew, but management failed to replace the valve. The two workers died instantly when the heater exploded around 11:30 p.m. The factory was permanently shut down after the incident.

Victims of workplace accidents and their families are usually entitled to compensation. Workers in Pennsylvania who have been injured on the job and who need money for medical care and other expenses may be able to work with an attorney while filing workers’ compensation claims.

Source: EHS Today, “Plant Leaders Agree to Pay $450,000 to Families of Workers Killed in 2009 Explosion”, Josh Cable, February 21, 2014