Are Legal Requirements Enough to Ensure Worker Safety?

If you’re going to write a law and you don’t bother to get input from the people who will be held responsible for executing and enforcing it, let alone living with its results, you cannot rightly expect optimal results. For example, if I gave the task of writing instructions on developing “sustainable” code to someone who’s never designed and developed software, I wouldn’t expect those instructions to be effective.

I can guarantee it will not be. The author and their intended audience don’t have the same level of prior experience with, training in, or knowledge of the subject. There is no communication. When there is no communication, the risk of failure increases substantially.

If people who write laws and regulations aren’t communicating their objectives and intent clearly, you must ask: What was their intent? What were their objectives? Now, we could get into a lengthy and heated “discussion” about what motivates legislators more – a call to serve citizens, or power and money – but that will not solve the problem at hand.


Roof of Loy-Lange after boiler explosion, 4/3/17 (AP photo)

The problem is this: Two days ago, in an industrial area of south St. Louis, a boiler exploded in a corrugated product manufacturer’s building, killing one of that business’s employees. The explosion resulted in the boiler being launched an estimated 500 feet, where it crashed through the roof of a neighboring business, killing two employees there. At last count, four others were injured. Property damage has not yet been assessed, nor has an accident reconstruction taken place.


Boiler from Loy-Lange after landing on Faultless facility, 4/3/17 (St. Louis Fire Department photo)

The company where the boiler explosion occurred is said to have been compliant with a St. Louis city statute that says any company operating a boiler or other pressure vessel is only required to have a “stationary” engineer on site for the boiler. Companies located in the city are not required to have their boilers inspected routinely. St. Louis is said to have been granted an exception to Missouri law[1], but no one seems to know when or why that exception was granted. You can be sure industrial workers weren’t consulted when that issue came before the legislature.

Laws and regulations governing worker safety usually offer only minimal protections from workplace risks. Industry and safety standards generally require much more. They are more rigorous, by intent and design. Examples of safety standards include OHSAS 18001[2], “Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems Requirements”, and BPVC Section VI, “Recommended Rules for the Care and Operation of Heating Boilers”.

Health and safety standards provide a framework for organizations to develop, implement, and maintain effective H&S management systems. For an organization’s HSMS to be certified, it must fulfill the requirements of the standard. It also must fulfill the needs and expectations of what are called “relevant interested parties”. That generally means “those who have a stake in the outcome of a process”.

An organization’s employees and contractors obviously have a stake in the outcome of the business. Suppliers (or vendors), service providers, and customers are also relevant interested parties. Finally, in the case of health and safety issues, neighboring businesses and residents may be (though often unwittingly) relevant interested parties.

One more thing. This was not the first time the safety of employees – and an entire neighborhood – were severely compromised by an industrial explosion in the city of St. Louis. We’re not talking about a pattern of indifference or neglect but when it comes to health and safety, one disaster is too many.

It seems we should – and we can – do much better that we’re now doing with respect to keeping workers healthy and safe.


  1. Fletes, Cristina M., “Boiler Explosion Kills 3, Injures 4”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 3, 2017 –
  2. Bell, Kim, Byers, Christine, and Kohler, Jeremy, “Two New Employees Filling Out Paperwork Among Dead in St. Louis Boiler Explosion”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 4, 2017 –
  3. Kohler, Jeremy, “St. Louis Has Its Own Way of Ensuring Boiler Safety. Is It Good Enough”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 4, 2017 –
  4. “List of Boiler Explosions, 4/5/2002-4/5/2017”, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor –
  5. Harris, Ellen, “Explosion at St. Louis Gas Plant Creates a Fiery Display”, New York Times, June 25, 2005 –
  6. “The Main Benefits of ISO Standards”, International Organization for Standardization –
  7. “Boiler & Pressure Vessel Safety”, Missouri Department of Public Safety, Office of the State Fire Marshal –


[1] Missouri laws regarding boiler and pressure vessel safety are stricter than St. Louis city laws.

[2] Soon to be released as ISO 45001


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Posted in health & safety, industrial explosion, OHSAS 18001, OSHA, Risk Management

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