OSHA makes fine stick
14 September 2011
The US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Bostik Inc. for 50 alleged violations of workplace safety standards following an explosion at the company's Massachusetts, USA, plant in which four workers were injured. The adhesives manufacturer now faces a total of $917,000 in proposed fines.
The US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Bostik Inc. for 50 alleged violations of workplace safety standards following an explosion at the company's Middleton plant in which four workers were injured
OSHA's inspection identified several serious deficiencies in the company's process safety management programme, a detailed set of requirements and procedures employers must follow to proactively address hazards associated with processes and equipment that involve large amounts of hazardous chemicals.
In this case, the chemical was acetone, used in a PSM-covered process known as direct solvation. On the day of the explosion, a valve on a transfer line was inadvertently left open, resulting in the release of flammable acetone vapours. These vapours then exploded after being ignited by an undetermined source.
"The requirements of OSHA's PSM standard are stringent and comprehensive because the stakes are so high," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. "Failure to evaluate, anticipate, address and prevent hazardous conditions associated with a process can result in a catastrophic incident such as an explosion."
"In this case, Bostik knew from prior third party and internal compliance audits conducted at the plant that aspects of its PSM programme were incomplete or inadequate, and mis-classified electrical equipment was in use. The company did not take adequate steps to address those conditions," said Jeffrey A. Erskine, OSHA's area director for north-eastern Massachusetts. "Luckily, the explosion happened when there were few workers in the plant. Otherwise, this incident could have resulted in a catastrophic loss of life."
Specifically, OSHA found that the process safety information for the solvation process was incomplete. The employer's analysis of hazards related to the process did not address previous incidents with a potential for catastrophic results, such as forklifts that struck process equipment, and did not address human factors such as operator error, communication between shift changes and employee fatigue from excessive overtime. In addition, the company did not ensure that a forklift and electrical equipment, such as a light fixture, switches and a motor, were approved for use in Class 1 hazardous locations where flammable gases or vapours are present.
As a result, OSHA has issued Bostik with nine wilful citations, with $630,000 in proposed fines for these conditions. A wilful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.
Bostik Inc. has also been issued with 41 serious citations, with $287,000 in fines, for a range of other conditions, including an incomplete and deficient emergency response plan, inadequate training for employees required to fight fires, obstructed exit access and electrical hazards, and additional PSM deficiencies. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard, about which the employer knew or should have known.
Bostik Inc. has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with OSHA's area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
In addition to OSHA's findings, the state fire marshal's office revealed that it found several code violations at Bostik, including storing more chemicals than licensed; having an unpermitted, dust-producing ‘grinding operation’, and failing to get a permit for the storage of flammable liquids.
"Bostik knew from prior third party and internal compliance audits conducted at the plant that aspects of its (process safety management) programme were incomplete or inadequate, and mis-classified electrical equipment was in use," said Jeffrey Erskine, OSHA's area director for Northeastern Massachusetts. "The company did not take adequate steps to address those conditions."
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