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Resin manufacturer fined after exposing employees to respiratory hazards, risk of explosion

22 May 2023

Inspectors from the US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have proposed $171,000 (£137,000) of penalties for Sumitomo Bakelite North America Inc. after it failed to follow required safety measures to protect workers from the dangers of chemical exposure and potential explosion. This is the second time the company has been found at fault after OSHA identified similar violations in a 2019 inspection.

Representative image: Shutterstock
Representative image: Shutterstock

Sumitomo Bakelite North America Inc. is a subsidiary of Sumitomo Bakelite Co. Ltd. which produces resins, molding compounds, laminates and circuitry materials for the automotive, aerospace, electronics and electrical, and oil and gas industries. For workers manufacturing plastic resin, the high heat used in the production process increases the risks of flammable vapours igniting and causing explosions.

In response to a complaint, OSHA opened an investigation in December 2022 and found Sumitomo Bakelite North America – operating as Durez Corp. in Kenton, Ohio – did not prevent resin accumulations from exposing control room workers to respiratory and fire hazards.

"Durez Corp. knowingly failed to develop and implement safeguards to protect employees from toxic gas releases, explosions from process equipment, and use good housekeeping procedures to protect its employees from potential combustible resin fires," explained OSHA Area Director Todd Jensen in Toledo, Ohio. "This company must make safety as important as profit before employees are sickened or tragedy occurs."

The agency cited Durez Corp. for one wilful violation for its failure to ensure the HVAC system effectively maintained a positive pressure on the control room and automatically shut off in the event of a formaldehyde release and to ensure employees working in the control room would not be injured in the event of a reaction vessel explosion. The company also received one serious citation for lacking an effective housekeeping program to minimize the amount of combustible resin on surfaces throughout the facility. OSHA has proposed penalties of $171,884.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the 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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