Safety Experts Questioning St. Louis’ Boiler Standards After Blast

April 17, 2017

Safety experts are questioning St. Louis’ boiler safety standards, following a deadly explosion that killed four people and injured several others.

Boiler safety is regulated almost uniformly in most places, with standards that generally include periodic inspections, but not in St. Louis. The city is exempt from the Missouri law requiring regular inspections of high-pressure boilers by either a state inspector or insurance company, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The deviation from national boiler safety standards was revealed after an explosion on April 3 sent a van-sized boiler into the sky at Loy-Lange Box Co., landing in the offices of Faultless Healthcare Linen. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the St. Louis Fire Department are investigating.

Missouri’s fire safety division issues more than 20,000 certificates of inspection for boilers and pressure vessels each year. Typically about 2,000 are found to be in dangerous condition.

But in St. Louis, the law requires a licensed stationary engineer to be on site while a high-pressure boiler is in operation, rather than requiring periodic inspections. Loy-Lange employed three stationary engineers assigned to the company’s two boilers. One of them, Kenneth Trentham, 59, was among those killed.

Christopher Watkins, 46, and Tonya Suarez-Gonzalez, 43, a married couple from St. Ann, Mo., died while filling out new employee paperwork at Faultless when the boiler that weighed about 2,000 pounds exploded, flew through the air and crashed through the linen company’s roof. A fourth person, Clifford Lee, 53, of St. Louis, who was also filling out forms at Faultless Linen, died later at St. Louis University Hospital.

It was not known whether the device had been inspected by an insurance company and issued a certificate that would have been acceptable under a standard process.

The city maintained its regulation system was safe. Because the city mandates licensed engineers to operate high-pressure boilers, they are under constant inspection, rather than just once per year, said Maggie Crane, a spokeswoman for Mayor Francis Slay.

But David A. Douin, executive director of the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors, said an engineer working for a company simply could not be objective.

“That’s the whole thing about third-party inspection,” he said. “You can be objective. You don’t work for the company that owns the equipment. Like, your boss isn’t going to say, ‘Hey, we need to do this production run today, can’t we wait a couple weeks before we fix it?”‘