The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued nine safety citations and proposed $45,000 in fines against the nation’s largest zinc producer for a refinery explosion that killed two workers last July.
James Taylor, 53, of Aliquippa, PA, and Corey Keller, 41, of Newell, WV, perished July 22 in the blast at the Horsehead Corp. facility in Monaca, PA.
On Wednesday, OSHA issued a list of nine safety violations, all but one of them serious, alleging that the company had put its employees in danger.
Employees “were required to work in close proximity to, and within the vent relief area and fireball hazard zone of, explosion-relief vents (or deflagration vents) on a zinc distillation column, creating the potential, in the event of an explosion, for the bricks comprising the vents to burst outward and contact employees, and flames and/or fireballs to exit the vents and engulf employees,” the citation read.
Company: Improvements Made
Horsehead Corp. said in a statement that it had expected the citations and was reviewing them.
“The company cooperated in the OSHA investigation and also partnered with employees and the United Steelworkers Union to proactively review safety measures at the facility,” said the statement by company vice president Ali Alavi.
“The result is the company has invested nearly $15 million to rebuild the refinery and install a number of safety measures.”
“The company remains committed to protecting the occupational health and safety of its employees, as well as any contractors or visitors entering our facilities. Horsehead takes the safety of every worker seriously, and continues its focus on maintaining and continuously improving the safe work environment at the company.”
OSHA alleged that the brick explosion-relief vents on the second and third floors of the column were located “such that bursting bricks, vented flames and fireballs, and vented gases resulting from an explosion in the column would be discharged directly into an area in which employees were required to work.”
The agency also said Horsehead:
• Lacked an emergency response plan and had not trained employees in emergency response, including knowing how to shut off the carbon monoxide and natural remote from the operation.
• Did not ensure that respirators maintained for emergency use were certified by documenting their inspection.
The accident temporarily shut down the zinc oxide production process at the Pittsburgh-based company. The company re-started a sixth zinc smelting furnace in December and said it expected to return to “pre-incident” zinc oxide production capability this month.
Horsehead Corp. has seven closed cases with OSHA dating to July 2005. The cases total 51 citations and more than $137,000 in fines, according to OSHA records.
Forty of those citations and $120,000 of the fine involved a 2005 accident at the Monaca facility in which an employee stepped into an uncovered condenser pit full of molten zinc and suffered severe leg burns. OSHA said the pit should have been covered or a guardrail provided. The initial fine was $186,750.
The company also has an open case, from June 2010, involving eight citations (seven serious) and a current fine of $12,375. Details of that case were not immediately available.
Horsehead is the largest zinc producer in the United States and a leading manufacturer of zinc products, including zinc oxide and zinc powder. The company is the world’s largest producer of zinc from recycled sources.