OSHA Fines Bostik $600,000 After 2011 Plant Explosion

by  Citation News Editor 18. May 2012

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.

Legacy of a Tragedy: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

by  Citation News Editor 25. March 2012

March 25, 2012, marks the 101st anniversary of New York City’s deadliest industrial accident, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

In less than 20 minutes, 146 workers burned, or jumped or fell to their deaths while trying to escape the flames at the factory.

The Fire Safety Commission at the time reported that over 95% of New York shops had defective safety conditions. Many lacked usable fire escapes and adequate exits.  A common management practice at the time was to lock employees inside the crowded and cluttered sweatshops during work hours to discourage breaks and stealing.

Soon-to-retire NYC Fire Chief Edward F. Croker had cited Triangle’s location (the Brown Building, fka, the Asch Building at 23-29 Washington Place) multiple times for lack of fire escapes, the last only a week before the fire.

Property owners and their representatives resisted, claiming sprinklers were “cumbersome and costly” and that such enforced regulations would “wipe out industry in the state.”

Individual witnesses and survivors of the Triangle fire agreed on numerous circumstances that contributed to the high number of deaths (several of which were preventable):

  • The fire was likely started by a match or cigarette butt tossed into a scrap bin on the 8th floor of the 10-story building.
  • Factory environment: long work tables difficult to get around, crowded rooms cluttered with flammable materials, oily floors from leaking machinery.
  • Boxes (of work materials) blocked the exit.
  • The door leading to the stairwell was locked from the outside.
  • The building had no sprinkler system, only water pails – many of which were empty.
  • The sole fire escape, many years rusted, collapsed.
  • Firemen’s hoses lacked enough pressure to reach the fire.
  • Firemen’s ladders reached only the 6th floor.
  • Firemen’s nets all split upon impact.

In a report following the Triangle fire, the Commission quoted NYC Fire Chief John Kenlon as stating, “Had an automatic sprinkler system been installed in the Triangle Waist Company building, he believed that not a single life would have been lost.”

Grain Bin Operator Closes in Wake of 2 Deaths, DOL Fines

by  Citation News Editor 9. December 2011

Two derelict social media sites still display final messages from those who knew the account owners: "RIP, we will miss you."

The sites belonged to two teenagers who lost their lives while working in an Illinois corn bin owned by Haasbach LLC. The cause of death was described as "traumatic asphyxiation".

On July 28, 2010, Wyatt Whitebread, 14, Alex Pacas, 19, and Will Piper, 20, were working on a pile of corn 30-feet deep while the bin’s unloading system was in operation. The workers were "walking down the corn," breaking up clumps of damp grain to make it flow onto a conveyor.

Whitebread began to sink into the pile as Piper and Pacas attempted to rescue him. Within seconds, Whitebread was completely engulfed in the corn, followed by Pacas. Piper was able to keep his head above the corn and was rescued as another worker, age 15, escaped the bin and went for help.

On December 7, 2011, the Department of Labor (DOL) reached an agreement with Haasbach LLC in Mount Carroll, IL, resolving 25 citations issued by the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In addition, the Department's Wage and Hour Division assessed civil monetary penalties for child labor violations.

OSHA cited Haasbach for 12 willful, 12 serious and 1 other-than-serious violation of the agency's grain standards. Following the December 7th agreement, the company must pay $200,000 in penalties, an amount reduced from the original fines of $550,000, based on Haasbach's size and assets.

The company failed to provide the workers with proper equipment, precautions and training. In addition, the workers should not have been in the bin while machinery was running.

A separate investigation by the DOL's Wage and Hour Division found that Haasbach violated the Fair Labor Standards Act's child labor provisions by employing workers under age 18 to perform hazardous jobs. Under the agreement, Haasbach will pay $68,125. Haasbach employed at least 4 underage workers at the time of the accident.

The company also faces two wrongful death lawsuits from the families of the deceased, as well as a personal injury suit by Piper. All three suits seek damages in excess of $50,000.

Haasbach, previously owned by three large farming families in Warren, IL, is no longer in business and has sold its Mount Carroll property to another grain storage operation. Its officials have neither issued any public apology nor sent a message of condolence to the families or community.

Dangerous Working Conditions Lead to Corporate Manslaughter Verdict

by  Guest Blogger 28. March 2011
Chris Hinchcliffe - Delta Simons

This weeks post was written by guest blogger Chris Hinchcliffe, Senior Environmental, Health & Safety consultant for Delta Simons Environmental Consultants.

On 17 February 2011, Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd was fined £385K after being found guilty of corporate manslaughter under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. This was the first case in UK law under this Act. The court took into account that a greater fine would have tipped the company into insolvency and thus the judge allowed the business to pay the fine over a 10 year period. Charges against the sole director were dropped due to the worsening state of his health.

The company allowed an employee to work in a narrow 3.5 metre deep pit with no supported sides and it collapsed and killed him. The court findings were that they allowed employees to carry out such work knowingly and supplied no training, method statement, risk assessment or adequate information.

Corporate ManslaughterThe Act applies across the UK and also extends to offshore installations covered by UK criminal law. The Act creates an offence whereby an organization will be guilty if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed to that person. This breach must lie mainly with the senior management team. The Act extends to companies and partnerships but not to individual directors.

A business can face an unlimited fine if convicted and ordered to publicize the conviction, which could have significant PR implications. Cotswold Geotechnical only has four employees currently and larger businesses should note that normal fines will seldom be less than £500K.

The outcome of the case should lead businesses to review their health and safety policies to ensure their management systems and work instructions are up-to-date. Staff should be fully aware of those policies and trained regularly on any important changes. Line management should supervise and audit work so that breaches are detected and corrected early.

Do you think that fault should lie with the corporation?  Do you think similar legislation would pass in the United States?