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Michigan magnesium company had history of safety violations before explosion - Updated

14 May 2018

The automotive parts factory where an explosion injured two workers on May 2 has a history of recent safety violations, according to local media. State safety documents show the violations included separate incidents in which employees suffered burns at the Eaton Rapids plant, which is owned and operated by Meridian Magnesium Products of America.

Image: Wangfeng
Image: Wangfeng

USA Today said all the safety citations at the plant over the last decade occurred after the company was acquired in December 2013 by Chinese automotive firm Wanfeng Auto Holding Group. Inspections conducted at the company in 2011 and 2012 resulted in no citations, according to Michigan safety records.

The plant has been cited for seven safety violations — three of them serious — since early 2014.

In recent years, the plant has been found in violation of Michigan Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) standards relating to worker safety around electrical equipment, die-casting machines and industrial trucks.  The company was fined for the violations, which included:

* An employee suffered extensive burns on November 1, 2016, because the company did not provide metal shielding to protect employees from inadvertent metal splash during die casting, according to Michigan OSHA records.

* An employee was burned by an arc flash explosion on September 28, 2015, and the company was cited for not requiring employees to wear appropriate protective equipment and for not requiring them to use insulated tools.

Last week's explosion closed the plant and stopped the flow of parts to Ford, which, in turn, had to indefinitely suspend all production of the F-150 pickup. This vehicle is responsible for much of the Ford Group’s profits.

Ford warned the shutdown would have an adverse impact on the company's near-term profitability. The incident also forced Meridian's other corporate customers, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz, to adjust production schedules.

Benjamin Wu, chief legal officer and public affairs director for Magnesium Products of America, said the company has one of the better safety records in the die-casting industry. Meridian also operates a factory in Ontario, Canada.

“We always try to prevent accidents. In the manufacturing environment, accidents happen,” Wu said. “We have high standards for our safety. Both facilities have had a long period of time without lost-time incidents. Our Canadian facility went over three years without a single lost-time incident.”

Wu said: “You’re injecting molten metal into (a) die. You’re going to have minor incidents.”

Eaton Rapids Fire Chief Roger McNutt said Meridian intends to rebuild and reopen its entire complex in four months. The plant's roof was destroyed when the north end of the main structure caught fire.

Update - The Eaton Rapids Fire Department official report made available on May 21 said some of the explosions occurred because the fire suppression system at the plant sprayed water onto molten magnesium. The cause of the first explosion has not been ascertained, the report said.

The report estimated the plant sustained $8 million worth of damage in the incident. Michigan OSHA has started an investigation at the plant.

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