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US OSHA cites chemical company $230,000 after two workers killed by exposure to respiratory hazards

11 January 2022

The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has proposed over $230,000 in fines for a chemical manufacturing plant after two workers died following exposure to dangerous chemicals.

Representative image: Shutterstock
Representative image: Shutterstock

Daikin America Inc., a developer and manufacturer of fluorochemical products, exposed workers to dangerous toxins at its Alabama plant which led to the deaths of two workers and sickened another, OSHA said. The safety watchdog said that Daikin America failed to provide appropriate protective equipment and implement safe work practices during maintenance activities on chemical processing equipment.

An OSHA investigation found that on 2 July 2021, the company exposed the three chemical operators to toxic fluorocarbon and other hazardous chemicals that resulted in the workers suffering respiratory failure.

One worker spent nearly a week in a local hospital for respiratory failure treatment before he returned home. The other two employees were treated at local hospitals but later died – one on August 10 and the other on September 28.

The exposure occurred while the workers were conducting maintenance activities requiring a processing line break, a nitrogen purge, and atmospheric venting of equipment, resulting in the release of toxic fluorocarbons and other hazardous chemicals. The investigation revealed that Daikin America failed to institute critical safe work practices required under OSHA's Process Safety Management standard and ensure workers used appropriate respiratory protection and personal protective equipment. The employer also failed to perform air monitoring to assess chemical exposures, provide written procedures that clearly identify the required level of respiratory protection, and communicate to workers the hazards associated with the chemicals.

OSHA cited Daikin America for nine serious and one willful violation. The company faces $232,103 in proposed penalties.

"Two families will enter 2022 without their loved ones and one family will have the long-lasting memory of a frightening and serious illness," said OSHA Area Director Ramona Morris in Birmingham, Alabama. "This tragic event should serve as a lesson for all employers to ensure effective safety protocols are established before initiating maintenance activities involving chemical processing equipment and systems."

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


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