First came the explosion that rocked a quiet neighborhood. Firefighters were called, who arrived to find a structure fully engulfed in flames. It was only after the fire was extinguished that they discovered an inhabitant in the structure who had perished in the fire. They didn't have to look far; the structure, after all, was a porta potty, and inside were the toasty remains of a 62-year-old woman. According to reports, the porta potty burned to the ground and was a total loss.
This was a woman who literally went down with her ship. (Ok, it wasn't a ship, but the word I wanted to use in that sentence rhymes with ship – you can figure it out)
We know this wasn't a workers' compensation case, but it easily could have been. The porta potty was in front of a house that was under construction in St. Augustine, Florida. The woman was a neighbor who lived several doors down. What compelled her to wander down the street to use said porta potty is not known. There must have been something about it that was more enticing than, say, a bathroom in her own house. It may have been one special porta potty.
What is also not known is the cause of the explosion. This happened on a Saturday morning, so we can pretty much rule out “Taco Tuesday.” Taco Bell has disavowed any knowledge of this woman and told me to stop calling them. Personally, I would conjecture that smoking might have been involved. If the woman happened to light up a cigarette and the porta potty was not properly ventilated, then a methane explosion is not out of the question. And if that is the case, then the same thing could happen to a construction worker who is taking a bathroom break on the job.
And no one wants “Death by burning porta potty” on their accident report or in their obituary.
Surprisingly, exploding porta potties are more common than you might think. An online search produces a significant number of stories about portable toilets exploding in spectacular fashion, although having a person inside at the time is unusual. Stories from the northeast indicate that some of these events are the result of bombs placed inside the units. That is a surprise to me. In my college days I bombed a couple portable toilets at concerts, and I don't ever recall one exploding.
But then again, I don't really recall the concerts, either.
Maybe they are talking about a different type of “bomb.” If it is the mechanical/high explosive device type of bomb, perhaps the mafia is moving to solidify its position in the lucrative porta potty business. But I digress…
In our Florida story, authorities say that foul play is not suspected. That may be the case, but it is pretty clear there was something foul inside that box. The lesson for employers is obvious. If you have employees who must use porta potties on the job, make sure they are properly ventilated (the porta potty, not the employee). And certainly, make sure that your employees never, ever smoke in one.
After all, a porta potty is a really crappy place to die.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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