OSH Matters

Growing interest in Occupational Safety and Health

OSH Hazards in ‘Volcano’ (1997)




“What a horror for the people in the city of Los Angeles, the word VOLCANO explains it all!”


VOLCANO (1997)


The Disaster Of Mount Wilshire

  This disaster film stars Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, and Don Cheadle, set in downtown Los Angeles and based on one of the most dangerous natural disasters known to man, an earthquake which leads to a volcanic eruption and it’s horrendous and unlikely after effects.

   The directors and producers made an exceptional film in conceptualizing the idea and putting across this disaster beautifully on the big screen. The film was a success bringing in a massive $122.8 million dollars US in total box office.   

   However, in this film, there are high varieties of health and safety violations, observed especially where the rescuers’ and doctors’ health and safety are concerned. If this exact scenario was to occur in reality, most, if not all of these people, would be suffering from serious internal injuries or would not survive.


Physical Hazards

   At the start of the movie, it was mentioned who was in charge of the city where natural disasters were concerned. This is the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) headed by director “Mike Roark” played by Tommy Lee Jones. He made drastic and impromptu decisions.  

   In the first sequence of the film where Mike is cooking food for his daughter, he is not concerned about safety even though he is the head of safety for the city. He does not use a glove to hold the hot frying pan which resulted in him being burnt while placing it down halfway on the countertop causing it to off balance and fall to the ground. This is evidence of a physical hazard since the pan could have fallen on his foot and cause serious injuries as he was not wearing any protective footwear. His house also seemed to be quite cluttered with objects on the ground that could be potential trip hazards and objects on shelves that could fall on him.

1Image 1: Mike held the hot frying pan without the use of gloves.

Source: Image from the movie (Volcano, 1997).

   At minute 6 of the film, the managers of the construction site are using a loader bucket as a table for their things. While it is in line with their height to benefit good posture, it is not a smart choice for a table because it is too small and if an earthquake was to occur then, everything would fall on them resulting in injury. Also if the loader were to shift from any movement, they would be crushed.

   Another extremely dangerous hazard was having men in an underground tunnel while the men that were supposed to be their anchor on top were far away and distracted. This is a job of high risk as there is only one point of regress. This proved to be a disaster especially when a gas explosion and massive heat wave struck the men inside. There was no quick way to escape and as a result, all but one died instantly. This is a physical hazard observed as he scratched his way up to the surface to get help, he was not wearing a hard hat or face shield which resulted in his face being severely burned.

2Image 2: Construction worker emerging from the underground tunnel with his face burnt.

Source: Image from the movie (Volcano, 1997).

   When Dr. Amy and Rachel ventured into the same underground tunnel, they used the correct heat-resistant protective equipment since they had an idea what they were getting into. However, they could be classified as ‘lone workers’ since no one else was aware that they were going in. Another hazard was when ‘Rachel’ kneeled down over the crack in the concrete. This was extremely dangerous as anything could emerge especially knowing what happened the day before with the team of workers. It so happened that she fell in the crack and was gone forever as it expanded exponentially, due to another earthquake and steam cloud arising from beneath them.

   With the volcano forming underground, ashes and smoke filled the atmosphere. This is a serious health physical hazard, relating to breathing. Most, if not all the civilians on the ground weren’t wearing dust masks to limit the amount of ash they inhaled. Another display of putting material things before human life was the preservation of the museum artifacts and paintings. Men were loading these into a truck while the roads were covered in ash and as the lava inched closer and hey had no form of personal protective equipment and devices (PPE). They are risking their lives, not only from the ash without the masks, but standing in one position as huge flaming rocks fall from the sky. Not only the reporters but as the ash filled the air with buildings and houses being burnt. The residents firstly tried to save their belongings instead of just leaving, therefore putting themselves in more danger. As they escaped, they just stood up in the streets watching the town get destroyed instead of taking shelter elsewhere. From a human perspective, they are just doing what is expected since they had to watch their life’s work be closer to them.

   The volcanic eruption also brought with it many noise hazards. Manhole covers flew into the air as high-pressure steam came shooting out of it. Projectiles came crashing down, burning trees and buildings also crashed down adding to the noise. Helicopters hovered above and in addition to all of this, was the general noise caused by persons screaming in fear, trying to escape. Emergency vehicles pulling up to the scene also added to the noise as sirens blared in addition to the other loud machinery. A news reporter even said it was so loud he couldn’t hear himself speak. No one in the movie however, was seen wearing any hearing protection.


3Image 3: Many trips hazards are seen from the equipment used for Dr. Amy to address the earthquake issues.

Source: Image from the movie (Volcano, 1997).

   Tangled cords and clutter can lead to a trip and fall leading to an injury. The electrical extension cords as seen in the image above were carelessly placed and tangled in a frequently used walkway. This is extremely dangerous since employees and customers or in this case members of the press and guest speakers could trip and injure themselves on a cord. If they don’t end up injured, their trip could pull a computer, monitor, cameras, and mics or other expensive pieces of equipment off a desk or disconnect and damage equipment. In the vicinity, anyone can trip and fall and injure themselves or even having the machinery fall unto them causing even more damages. It would be recommended to route the cords and cables so that they are not a tripping hazard to anyone, never do this by hiding them under rugs or other similar floor coverings.


4Image 4: Excessive steam is being shot out of a crack in the underground tunnel.

Source: Image from the movie (Volcano, 1997).

   In this particular scene of the movie, the investigation is being done to identify where the steam seen in the image above is coming from. Heat stress occurs when the body’s means of controlling its internal temperature starts to fail. Air temperature, work rate, humidity and work clothing are all factors which can cause heat stress. Heat stress can affect individuals in different ways and some people are more susceptible to it than others. Typical symptoms of heat stress are muscle cramps, heat rash, severe thirst, fainting, heat stroke, etc. This is a severe disorder and can result in death if not detected at an early stage (Health and Safety Executive, 2013a).


5Image 5: Mike entering worksite without proper safety gear.

Source: Image from the movie (Volcano, 1997).

   Lack of Proper Personal Equipment (P.P.E) – in the image above, Mike has entered the worksite having inadequate and unsuitable clothing and gear, for example, he lacked proper safety eye-wear, headgear, for example, hard hats. This leaves him vulnerable to all hazards found at the worksite, most distinctively, physical hazards.


Ergonomic Hazards

6Image 6: Mike risked his own safety by using a jackhammer to help place the explosives in the ground without using the proper personal protective equipment.

Source: Image from the movie (Volcano, 1997).

   Another time Mike risked his own safety to save his city was when he picked up a jackhammer to help place the explosives in the ground. He did not have on any gloves or steel-toe boots and he did not even acquire the correct stance. He just picked it up and started hammering away to get the job done during the earthquake. This was not very wise but it was required at that time to get the job done quickly as it was mere minutes before the lava would reach them.


7Image 7: Citizens tried lifting concrete barriers to set aside on another creating a wall to stop the flow of lava.

Source: Image from the movie (Volcano, 1997). 

   Lifting hazards are mainly caused by improper lifting, posture and ergonomics, as seen in the image above the firefighters are inappropriately lifting the material. As a result of this, it can lead to back injuries such as compressed spinal flow, straining the lower back, stress on muscles, discs, and vertebrae. However, it is recommended to think before lifting/handling, adopt a stable position, get a good hold, start in a good posture, don’t flex the back any further while lifting, avoid twisting the back or leaning sideways, avoid twisting the back or leaning sideways, keep the load close to the waist, keep the head up when handling, move smoothly, don’t lift or handle more than can be easily managed and put down, then adjust. (Health and Safety Executive, 2012).


Electrical Hazards

   In the first hospital scene at St. Vincent Hospital, where the doctors were operating on a gunshot wounded patient, the first earthquake occurred. As everything was shaking and vibrating, in order to save the patient’s life, the doctor risked her life and placed her hand over the outlet to prevent the machine from coming unplugged. This is a physical hazard as electrical problems could have occurred and is never a safe practice but she acted impulsively (Health and Safety Executive, 2013b).


8Image 8: Doctor placed her hand over the outlet to prevent the machine from coming unplugged.

Source: Image from the movie (Volcano, 1997).


Fire Hazards

   The overloaded power strip in Mike’s house is an example of not only an electrical hazard but also a fire hazard.

   Another display of hazards was when the helicopters were flying dangerously low over the erupting magma to get the perfect shot so that they can depict the seriousness and tragedy of the moment and also help minimize the eruption by expelling water. All while the lava flowed through the streets heading towards houses and the heroic efforts of the OEM team, firefighters, and police fighting to stop its flow.


9Image 9: Helicopters used to help minimize the eruption but is too close to the eruption.

Source: Image from the movie (Volcano, 1997).

  When Mike and Amy rushed to get the man out of the lava’s way, the risk was high, but as the seconds went by, the risk went up as they were being dangled from a fire truck ladder in order to be saved from the blazing lava swamp under them. Anticipation built as the hose on the ladder from the fire truck began to burn due to the intense heat, only decreasing their chance of making it out alive. However, they made it over the lava safely.


Biological Hazards

   The underground tunnel contained biological hazards as it was infested with rats which may carry parasites and diseases that are harmful to humans and can cause Leptospirosis. (How To Deter Mice And Rats From Your Home, 2017).

10Image 10: Rodents living in an underground tunnel.

Source: Image from the movie (Volcano, 1997).

  It is well known that pests have been a problem since the dawn of time. Rats, mice, insects etc. all destroy and wreak havoc on our homes. This would be referred to as a biological hazard since mice could carry harmful diseases to humans and others around them such as Leptospirosis, Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome and Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome to name a few.

   Some recommendations can be necessary measures to get rid of the mouse in work areas is a way to prevent themselves and others from being infected with any disease. These assessments were supposed to be done before work commencement on the worksite to ensure the safety of workers.


11Image 11: Individuals covered in ashes due to the volcanic eruption.

Source: Image from the movie (Volcano, 1997).

   This particular scene occurred at the end of the movie whereby upon using explosives to bring down a building, it resulted in a massive amount of dust and ashes. Thus, this can be a biological hazard since due to the accumulation of dust, it can create an oxygen deficient atmosphere.

  This will result in respiratory problems such as wheezing, bronchitis, and conjunctivitis as well as eyes problems which include itchy eyes. In addition, long-term issues that can result in lung impairment due to the particles from the ashes.



  • “How To Deter Mice And Rats From Your Home | Ketchup: The Essential Ingredient For Your Home | Homeserve”. 2017. Ketchup.Homeserve.Com.

http://ketchup.homeserve.com/handy-hints/kitchen/how-to-deter-mice-and-rats-from-your-home/ .

  • Health and Safety Executive. 2013a. “Heat Stress In The Workplace”.


  • Health and Safety Executive. 2013b. “Electricity At Work.”


  • Health and Safety Executive. 2012. “Manual Handling At Work.”







2 thoughts on “OSH Hazards in ‘Volcano’ (1997)

  1. MGMT 6310

    I quite enjoyed this post written on the subject matter of , OSH Hazards in ‘Volcano’ (1997). It was very informative and it pointed out a lot of important details that the average movie viewer may not have picked up on.
    The article posted seemed to focus on the lack of adherence to safety throughout the film “volcanoes”. There seems to be a frequent disregard for proper use of P.P.E, standard procedures and safety awareness as the writer describes various scenes. They even pointed out that the director of the O.E.M made poor decisions throughout the natural disaster.

    I commend the writer for not only pointing out the faults of procedures and potential hazards, but that they also let the reader know what the corrective actions were. It shows that proper research was done and helps readers to know of the solutions as well as common mistakes.

    In my opinion however, certain procedures do not fit some of the situations described although it may sound good in theory. In the case of the electrical hazard, while it was an impulsive action for the doctor to cover the outlet of the machine , I believe that this is an expected human reaction for that situation. I understand where the writer is coming from and that such action is not advisable, but i do not think that this could have been prevented in a case like this.

    Another example is the scene where the citizens are lifting concrete barriers to help protect them from lava. Again I understand the risks the writer mentioned about improper lifting, posture and ergonomics, however in a case like this where the risk of lava overshadows the risk of back injuries etc. , this too was an expected human reaction to the situation.

    In conclusion I will say that it was a well researched and written article and again I commend the writer for a very interesting read.

    -Toni Dillon

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s