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Penalties total more than $600,000
Federal safety officials have cited a chemical manufacturing company near Allentown, PA, for safety violations that they say led to a catastrophic explosion in February. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed penalties of $641,200 after the explosion killed five workers, including a father and son, and injured two others.
OSHA cited Concept Sciences Inc. (CSI), a specialty chemical manufacturer, for 20 alleged violations, including 11 willful violations for failure to protect employees from the explosive potential of hazardous chemicals. The explosion occurred Feb. 19, 1999, at CSI’s manufacturing facility in Hanover Township, PA. Four of the workers killed were employed by CSI; one worker from an adjacent business was also killed in the explosion.
"This is precisely why OSHA established standards to prevent catastrophic incidents involving hazardous chemicals," Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman said in announcing the proposed penalties. "CSI management was clearly aware of the requirements of those standards but failed to take adequate safety measures prior to producing a chemical known throughout the industry as potentially explosive."
A troubling aspect of the situation, Herman says, is that CSI management did not provide pertinent information to their employees on the hazards involved in the production process or the explosive nature of the chemical. CSI employed 21 workers at two locations in the Allentown area. Employees were involved in the company’s first production run of hydroxylamine, a chemical additive used to produce other chemicals for the microprocessor industry. OSHA’s inspection revealed that the explosion occurred at a 2,500-gallon fiberglass reinforced charge tank containing approximately 750 pounds of the hazardous chemical. The tank was being used in the distillation process.
Pure hydroxylamine has explosive energy roughly equivalent to that of TNT, according to OSHA. The explosion destroyed the building, and the walls collapsed inward onto the workers inside. CSI denies the charges, and a company spokesman says it has adequate safety training and may contest the proposed fines. "CSI emphatically denies that it has ever intentionally taken any action that was a known violation with plain indifference to the law,’" according to a statement released by the company.
Of the 20 violations cited, 11 were alleged willful violations of OSHA’s process safety management (PSM) standard, as well as provisions of the hazard communication standard, related to the allegation that the employer did not notify workers of the explosive potential. The PSM standard establishes requirements to prevent, or minimize, the potential for fire or explosion caused by dangerous chemicals. Hazard communication addresses the potential hazards of chemicals and establishes procedures to communicate those hazards to employees through material safety data sheets and other means.
The 11 willful violations, with a total proposed penalty of $616,000, are composed of various groupings of individual requirements of both standards. They include: failure to compile process safety information; inadequate process hazard analysis and operating procedures; failure to train employees on operating procedures and the physical hazards of chemicals; lack of a pre-start-up safety review; process equipment deficiencies; and failure to develop mechanical integrity procedures.
OSHA also issued nine alleged serious violations to CSI, totaling $25,200, and cited the company for these problems:
• lack of employee participation in a PSM program;
• failure to adopt safer work practices;
• no injury and illness logs for contract employees;
• inadequate mechanical maintenance training;
• deficiencies in chemical hazard evaluation procedures;
• improper labeling of chemical containers.
Willful violations are those committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and OSHA regulations. A serious violation is defined as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.