On a Sunday evening, on March, 13, 2011, the community of Middleton, MA was rocked by a powerful explosion emanating from a plant owned and operated by Bostik, Inc., a plastics and adhesives manufacturer.
The blast injured four people, shook nearby homes, and raised concerns about the town's water and air safety. It also called into question the company's enforcement of safety regulations.
After a six-month investigation, on September 13, 2011, OSHA cited Bostik for 50 alleged violations of workplace safety standards and proposed fines totaling $917,000.
The inspection identified serious deficiencies in Bostik's process safety management (PSM) program, a detailed set of requirements and procedures employers must follow to proactively address hazards associated with processes and equipment that involve large amounts of hazardous chemicals.
A valve was inadvertently left open on the day of the explosion, releasing flammable acetone vapors that exploded after being ignited by an undetermined source.
"In this case, Bostik knew from prior third-party and internal compliance audits conducted at the plant that aspects of its PSM program were incomplete or inadequate, and misclassified electrical equipment was in use," said Jeffrey A. Erskine, OSHA's area director for northeastern Massachusetts.
"The company did not take adequate steps to address those conditions," Erskine said. "Luckily, the explosion happened when there were few workers in the plant. Otherwise, this incident could have resulted in a catastrophic loss of life."
OSHA found that the Company's process safety information was incomplete. The employer's analysis of hazards did not address previous incidents with a potential for catastrophic results, such as forklifts that struck process equipment, and did not address human factors such as operator error, communication between shift changes and employee fatigue from excessive overtime. In addition, the company did not ensure that a forklift and electrical equipment, such as light fixtures, switches and motors, were approved for use in hazardous locations where flammable gases or vapors are present.
On May 17, 2012, OSHA and Bostik, Inc. reached a settlement of $600,000 in fines. Bostik is no longer using the manufacturing process that was in part responsible for the explosion. The settlement also commits Bostik to strengthening its PSM program to prevent a similar incident in the future. The company must keep OSHA apprised of its progress in abating workplace hazards.