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5 months after school boiler explosion, injured worker dies

A facility mechanic who was severely burned in a boiler explosion in a Philadelphia elementary school in January has died from his injuries on May 18. The man, who had been with the district for a quarter of a century, had been in a medically-induced coma since the explosion.

According to a spokesman for the man's union, which represents blue-collar Philadelphia School District workers, the 62-year-old maintenance worker sustained third-degree burns over the lower part of his body. He said, "While his burns were healing, his body could not sustain."

The incident occurred when the worker was in the process of bringing a boiler at Franklin S. Edmonds Elementary School online after a year of being off line when it blew up. Eleven of the district's 542 boilers had been taken off line in order for significant repairs involving its gas and water lines. Over half of the boilers reportedly required minor repairs.

Just after the accident in January, school district workers organized a march to the school district headquarters. They met with a school district executive, Philadelphia's mayor and a representative from the governor's office. Workers and union leaders said that they had been warning the district for years that budget cuts had affected the safety of workers as well as students and others in the schools.

These budget cuts also delayed necessary building repairs, they said. The potentially-dangerous process of turning back on a boiler that had been shut down for a long period used to require two workers.

At the march in January, a school district official said, "We don't ignore safety issues." He asserted that the district had spent $83 million over the past decade on new boilers. The district inspected all functioning boilers three months after the deadly explosion.

The victim's family has not yet filed a lawsuit, according to their attorney. However, he said that his firm was "actively investigating this matter."

Too often it takes a tragic incident to bring about necessary safety measures or reinstate ones that organizations may have become lax about enforcing. While no amount of money can bring back a loved one, by seeking compensation, families can get needed funds to cover medical costs and lost wages as well as help incentivize employers to improve safety for other workers.

Source: Philly.com, "School worker in boiler explosion dies of his injuries," Robert Morris, May 20, 2016

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