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Chemical manufacturer fined $300,000 for combustible dust, chemical process violations after fatal explosion

28 November 2023

A pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturer in Massachusetts, US and its parent company could have prevented an employee's fatal injuries from an explosion on 4 May 2023 but lacked the required safeguards in a chemical manufacturing process, a US Department of Labor investigation found.

Image: Newburyport Fire Department
Image: Newburyport Fire Department

One worker was killed and four were injured after an explosion partially destroyed a plant operated by PolyCarbon Industries in the city of Newburyport, 35 miles (56 km) northeast of Boston. An investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration identified numerous deficiencies in the facility's process safety management program for highly hazardous chemicals for the production and drying of a chemical product called Dekon 139 and for combustible dust hazards. During the process, a pressure vessel exploded causing the employee's fatal injuries.

Specifically, OSHA investigators found that PolyCarbon and its parent company, chemical manufacturer Seqens, did not:

- Determine the combustibility hazards of materials used in the Dekon 139 production process, exposing employees to fire and explosion hazards from combustible dust.
- Include safe upper and lower temperature limits to prevent the decomposition of Dekon 139.
- Evaluate the consequences of deviation in the Dekon 139 production process.
- Establish written procedures to maintain the ongoing integrity of process equipment and provide clear instruction on consequences of deviation from steps in the operating procedures.
- Update the process safety information to include steps to avoid consequences of deviation in temperature, properties and hazards of the chemicals used in the process.
- Update standard operating procedures for producing Dekon 139 and its safety data sheet.
- Review a November 2022 compliance audit report with all affected personnel whose job tasks are relevant to the report findings.
- Track contract employee's injury and illnesses related to the contractor's work in the process areas.

These conditions led OSHA to cite PolyCarbon Industries and Seqens for 11 violations, including eight serious and two repeat and one other-than-serious. The agency assessed $298,254 (£235,631) in proposed penalties. You can view the citations by clicking here.

"The requirements of OSHA's Process Safety Management standard are stringent and comprehensive because failure to comply fully can have a severe or catastrophic impact on employees that, in this case, cost a worker their life," said OSHA's Area Director Sarah Carle in Andover, Massachusetts. "Employers must rigorously, completely and continuously scrutinize, update and maintain each element of the process properly to identify and minimize hazards and protect workers' safety and health."

Seqens operates 24 manufacturing plants and three research and development centres in North America, Europe and Asia. Formerly named PCI Synthesis, the Newburyport site is a chemical-processing facility engaged in the manufacturing, drying, packaging and testing of active pharmaceutical intermediates and custom synthesized chemicals.

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