Fatal Texas accident leads to $1.8 million penalty

Failure to follow lockout/tagout procedures led to the deaths of eight workers and serious injuries to two more at a Houston work site just before Christmas, according to a report issued by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Washington, DC. The company is being fined $1.8 million.

The accident occurred at Wyman-Gordon Forgings in Houston on Dec. 22, 1996. The company manufactures technologically advanced forgings and composite airframe structures for the aircraft and aerospace industries. Employees were performing maintenance work that required them to lockout/tagout a large hydraulic press and related equipment. They did not do so, and OSHA later determined that there was no specific lockout/tagout procedure for the maintenance procedure being performed.

The workers were replacing sealed vessels containing nitrogen pressurized at 5,000 lbs. per square inch when there was an unexpected release of pressurized nitrogen. The force of the released nitrogen was so great that it propelled a 3,000-lb. valve assembly more than 200 yards, where it dug into the ground more than five feet deep. Eight workers were killed and two more, including the maintenance supervisor, were injured. Some of the workers had been on the job only a few weeks.

OSHA investigated the accident and now reports that a full implementation of the lockout/tagout rules would have "significantly reduced the probability" of the release of pressurized nitrogen. The agency notes that Wyman-Gordon cooperated in the investigation and has agreed not to contest the $1.8 million in penalties. In addition to correcting the hazards at the Houston plant, the company also agreed to address safety problems at forging facilities in North Grafton, MA; Worcester, MA; and Millbury, MA.