An explosion may have been the cause of Wednesday’s fatal water tank accident at the Live Oak Cogeneration Plant in Oildale, CA, state investigators said.
The two men involved in the accident were using water and highly pressurized air to check for leaks in the tank, a Cal-OSHA spokesman said. Something may have caused the pressure to release suddenly, vaulting the workers into the air, he said.
“The pressure could have built upwards, which would, you know, propel them. So it may not have been that they fell as much as they were hurled. But we don’t know that,” said agency spokesman Peter Melton.
Authorities said Barry Snelson, 54, died in the accident after apparently hitting his head during a fall inside the tank, located at an oil field power plant and steam generation facility. An unidentified supervisor inside the tank with Snelson suffered a broken ankle.
Both men were working for Brahma Group Inc., a Salt Lake City-based engineering and contracting firm.
Cal-OSHA shed new light on the possible cause of the accident. The agency and the Kern County Fire Department originally suggested a “false floor” the men were standing on gave way at 9:30 a.m.
But Melton noted the false floor — a permanent feature of the structure rather than the temporary modification authorities described Wednesday — was only six inches to a foot above the bottom of the tank.
Melton emphasized that investigators have much work ahead of them, and that they had not yet reviewed Brahma’s safety plan.