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Contractors Fined in Deadly Plant Blast

Friday, February 21, 2014

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Two New York contractors are being held liable for a September explosion at a Syracuse sewage plant that killed one worker and injured another.

Richard R. "Rick" Whitney Jr., 58, of Bernhards Bay, NY, perished after the confined-space explosion Sept. 11 during a renovation project at the Canastota Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Richard "Richie" Sterling, also of Bernhards Bay, suffered burns on his arms and face and was treated at a local hospital.

RichardRWhitney
Courtesy of the Whitney family via syracuse.com

Richard R. "Rick" Whitney had worked for Joy Process Mechanical for 30 years, his family said.

Whitney was a longtime steamfitter for Joy Process Mechanical, of Syracuse, according to The Post-Standard. On the day of the accident, Sterling, a family friend, was working for M. Hubbard Construction Inc., of Canastota, as Whitney's helper, the report said.

Plant Renovation

The two were working on a $35,000 pipe replacement project that was a late addition to a general renovation at the plant, Martin "Marty" Hubbard, of Hubbard Construction, told the newspaper.

"The plant is old, and they wanted the pipe updated," said Hubbard, who also is the mayor of the nearby village of Skaneateles.

Hubbard Construction was the general contractor on the project; Joy Mechanical was a subcontractor, officials said.

Hot-Work Blast

Whitney was welding a new pipe into a tank (the Methane Collection Dome) where the two had been working all day without incident, officials said. Sterling was standing on the top step of an eight-foot stepladder in the three-foot manhole entry to the tank.

Canastota WWTP
canastota.com

The Canastota Wastewater Treatment Plant (pictured in 2005) was undergoing a pipe replacement after an extensive renovation when the accident occurred.

Whitney suffered third-degree burns over much of his body and died four days later.

Now, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is holding both contractors responsible.

Neither company responded Thursday (Feb. 20) to a request for comment.

10 Citations

OSHA has issued three serious citations and $14,700 in proposed fines against Joy Process Mechanical and seven serious citations and $31,020 in fines against M. Hubbard Construction.

The citations against Joy Process Mechanical allege that the company violated confined-space safety standards in allowing Sterling to work on a welding and cutting operation inside the dome, a confined space and a hazardous atmosphere.

JoyProcess
Joy Process Mechanical

Joy Process Mechanical is a division of the Edward Joy Co., founded in 1875.

The citations say Sterling was not trained in confined-space safety or provided with a Material Safety Data Sheet for methane. The agency says Joy lacked a confined-space safety program, including a protocol for atmospheric testing before entry and during occupation.

The same allegations are contained in the citations against M. Hubbard. In addition, Hubbard is accused of ladder violations and of failing to provide ventilation or a retrieval system in the confined space.

Another citation accuses Hubbard of allowing the workers to use equipment that was not rated for a hazardous environment.

'Could Have Been Prevented'

"This tragedy could have been prevented had basic safety precautions been implemented," said Christopher Adams, OSHA's area director in Syracuse.

"Confined spaces and hazardous atmospheres pose dangerous risks to workers. Employers must provide the equipment and safeguards that prevent workers from getting hurt."

The companies have 15 days from receipt of the citations to contest the claims or comply.

   

Tagged categories: Confined space; Explosions; Fatalities; hazardous materials; Industrial Contractors; OSHA; Wastewater Plants; Worker training

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