November 19, 2007 The Pump Handle 1Comment

Matthew Indeglia, 20, was in the midst of his second day on the job on November 6 at Dominion’s Salem Harbor Power Station (in Salem Harbor, Mass.) when a 10-story boiler exploded, sending steaming-hot water vapor into his work area.  Also in the work zone were 19-year company veterans Phillip Robinson, 56, and Mark Mansfield, 41, who were also engulfed in steam.  All three men died hours later from severe burn injuries.   Although this story is a week “old,” the victims will never be forgotten by their loved ones left behind.  I write about them here at The Pump Handle as a constant reminder that deaths on the job happen every day in the U.S., and that our current regulations, enforcement and training programs are obviously not adequate to prevent them.

The young worker, Matthew Indeglia, 20, was a new employee and in training to be an in-plant fireman.  His family said,

“He was a really good, kind kid.  He was a hard worker.  …He was a family person.  He loved his family.”

At the funeral for Mark Mansfield, 41, a mechanic at the plant, friends and family described him as someone who “embraced life with gusto.”

“A blue Corvette Stingray convertible led the procession with a wreath of flowers on the hood and Mansfield’s black work boots on the trunk. A Dominion power plant hard hat sat atop one boot, and his union baseball cap, IBEW Local 326, rested on the other. The car was adorned with his other baseball caps…as well as plush NASCAR toys — a tribute to Mansfield’s love of car racing.  ‘I don’t think it was ever possible to get him away from the television set when a NASCAR race was on,’ said his stepfather, generating laughs and knowing nods from the crowd of mourners.”

Phillip R. Robinson, 56, was a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Navy until 1986.  He had nearly 20 years of experience working for electric power providers: New England Power, PGE, and Dominion.  His memorial tribute says he was:

“very devoted to his grandchildren and enjoyed organizing trips to Las Vegas through his place of work every year.  He also enjoyed camping, antique vehicles and a ‘good deal.'”

Looking at these men’s photos and reading these short snippets of who they were reminds me that we cannot stop putting the names and faces with the statistics.  Politicians, government officials, and company officials often say “even one fatality is too many,” but what are we really doing to show we mean it? 

The business manager for IBEW Local 326 which represented workers at the Salem Harbor Power Station said,

“In my experience with the plant in the 25 years that I have been here, I can’t say enough for the safety programs that are in place.  These gentlemen who were sadly killed yesterday were some of the best-trained power plant workers.  All of the safety precautions that had to be in place at the time of the accident were in place.”

Hmmm.   No disrespect to the representative of Local 326, but something went terribly wrong at Salem Harbor.   I’m confident that when the investigations are completed, the family members of Matthew Indeglia, 20, Phillip Robinson, 56, and Mark Mansfield, 41, and their co-workers will learn that short-cuts were taken, warning signs ignored, scheduled maintenance delayed or some other circumstances that might have prevented the boiler explosion.   

The State of Massachusetts, like many States, has rules on the books to ensure the safe operation of boilers and requires boilers to be regularly inspected.  Officials from Dominion were quick to point out that the  Salem Harbor boiler had been inspected by a third party in April.  OSHA safety standards for boilers (29 CFR 1926. 29) simply state:

“Boilers provided by the employer shall be deemed to be in compliance with the requirements of this part when evidence of current and valid certification by an insurance company or regulatory authority attesting to the safe installation, inspection and testing is presented.”

For the history buffs out there, read this Boston Globe article from 1902 on the success of Massachusetts’ Boiler Inspection program.

“While the other parts of the country in the last three years have been devastated by nearly 1,500 explosions, whihc have been more or less serious and wrought considerable destruction to life and property, the Bay State has not recorded one.  …The boiler inspectors are ten in number, and each one has his own particular district to look after.”

“The Inspector’s chief instrument is a little hammer, very similar to one which geologists carry.  With it he sounds every portion of the boiler’s shell, looking for the least suspicion of a crack or break.  These occur most frequently at the seams where two plates of the boiler come together, and they have been the cause of more than half the loss of life and property…”

“‘Our work is not very well know. A man who inspects a boiler is not given very much thought by the public, as a rule, and few people realize exactly how important is his position.  We work inside and outside of the boiler and have to make a thorough inspection of the shell, the tubes, the braces, and all the other parts.'”  

Fast forward back to November 2007.  Dominion announced:

“…the first indication of a problem with the Unit 3 boiler was when the rupture occurred at about 9:00 am.  …The rupture occurred on an exterior steam tube in the basement level on the east side of the Unit 3 boiler.  The cause of the rupture is not known.  Steam flows through these tubes from the boiler to the turbine-generator, which spins to produce electricity.”

Eventually, the families of Matthew Indeglia, 20, Phillip Robinson, 56, and Mark Mansfield, 41, will learn how the cause(s) of this disaster.  They may also wonder if this boiler explosion could have been prevented.   In November 1902, Massachusetts boasted:

“The State possesses a corp of boiler inspectors who do their work so well that almost every chance of a boiler explosion has been eliminated.  For it is mainly through their efforts that this sort of accident has been prevented for the last few years.”

Boilers and the programs to keep them safe have doubtless changed a lot over the past century, but the fact remains: We need to be demanding and thorough about this kind of equipment because workers’ lives are at stake.

One thought on “Three Workers Killed in Boiler Explosion

  1. I was just looking at what the bussiness agent from Local 326 James Red Simpson said about his comment these where some of the best trained power plant workers. Red Wake up it was Matt’s 2nd day on the job he should of been in a class room and not on the floor. Dominion tell you to say that to Red, you Kiss ASS.

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