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OSHA cites US protein and biomass plants for safety violations

30 January 2015

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued 13 citations to the Omega Protein facility in Moss Point, Mississippi, following the investigation of the death of one temporary worker and serious injury to another. The company received citations for noise exposure, personnel protective equipment, machine guarding, welding and cutting and electrical hazards.

Three other companies involved in project work at the site received additional citations.

The two temporary workers hired to cut and weld pipes at the Omega Protein plant at the Moss Point plant on July 28, 2014, had no idea that the storage tank beneath them contained methane and hydrogen sulfide gases and they had no training about the explosion hazard associated with those gases.

“The Omega Protein plant explosion shines a spotlight on how critical it is for employers to verify, isolate and remove fire and explosion hazards in employee work areas," said Eugene Stewart, OSHA's area director in Jackson, Miss. "If the employer ensured a safe environment, this tragic incident could have been prevented."

Omega Protein was cited previously for these same violations in 2012. Additionally, the serious hazards included allowing workers to weld and cut piping on an improperly prepared storage tank containing explosive methane and hydrogen sulfide gases and failing to label or tag the storage tank to note that it contained hazardous chemicals.

Proposed penalties for the four companies total $187,620.

Indianhead Biomass Services plant in St. Augustine, Florida, has also been cited for two explosions on its premises.

OSHA has recommended $91,000 in penalties against the company relating to the most recent explosion- which happened at the end of July. OSHA also issued eight safety citations for that incident, which left two workers severely burned.

OSHA says the men were trying to shut down a sawdust dryer in order to unclog an outlet vent when smouldering embers in the dryer ignited. The workers had been recently assigned to the dryer, having previously worked with concrete.

The first explosion at the plant was in March and involved two employees working on a wood gas heat exchanger. One worker is permanently disabled as a result and another was injured, according to OSHA. An inspection following that incident resulted in two willful violations and seven serious violations.

The citations relating to these explosions include failing to design and implement fire and explosion protective measures, not developing and implementing a hazard communication plan, not providing appropriate situational training and others.

"This incident could have been prevented if the employer established and implemented necessary safety measures to ensure that the pipe was properly vented to release the heat and pressure that builds up inside the pipe," said Brian Sturtecky, OSHA's area director in Jacksonville. "The employer's lack of safety procedures endangered all workers at this facility and resulted in one employee being permanently disabled."

All companies involved in these cases have 15 days to respond to the proposed citations and penalties.

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