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Firm’s Double Whammy: OSHA, Fire

Friday, April 15, 2011

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Authorities are investigating two explosions and a fire that heavily damaged an Ohio chemical processing facility shortly after it was cited—a second time—for electrical hazards and other federal safety violations.

No one was injured in the fire, which broke out about 8 p.m. EDT Wednesday at Howard Industries, a custom chemical processing business based in Columbus, OH.

The company also has sites in Newport News, VA, and West Memphis, AR. No one from the company could be reached for comment Friday.

2 Dust Explosions

The fire was triggered by a dust explosion that occurred when three second-shift employees were mixing a batch of a new product, said Columbus Division of Fire spokesman and firefighter Bill Ehrgood. The dry mixture was going from a mixing unit through an auger and into bags when it exploded and caused a fire.

As the employees fled to safety, the fire quickly spread to other chemicals, causing a second, larger explosion and fire, which blew a hole through the roof and significantly damaged the facility.

 Howard Industries

 Howard Industries

Howard Industries of Columbus, OH, provides custom chemical processing. The company has been in business for more than 40 years.

Firefighters remained on the scene for nearly 24 hours before turning over the site to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which will supervise the clean-up, Ehrgood said. No chemicals were released from the facility, and the fire department has ruled the fire accidental.

It is not clear what chemicals were in use and nearby at the time. Ehrgood said that the investigation had turned up “a couple discrepancies” in that regard and that the company lacked some required documentation.

OSHA Citations

The explosions came just hours after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced 23 citations and $71,280 in proposed fines against the company stemming from a December inspection.

The citations included two repeat violations for failing to ensure proper closure of electrical conductor boxes, which can create a shock hazard. OSHA cited Howard Industries for the same violation in March 2010.

The company was issued 18 serious citations that included alleged failure to:

• Install stair handrails where required;

• Clearly mark doors as exit routes and properly light exit signs;

• Provide written procedures for lockout and tagout of equipment with multiple energy sources;

• Remove forklifts with broken horns, broken light and other safety issues from service;

• Use weather-safe electrical boxes;

• Train workers in safe work practices regarding specific hazards associated with electrical energy; and

• Require workers to use personal protective equipment to protect against electrical hazards.

In addition, the company was cited for modifying a forklift used to tow trailers; and for multiple instances of misusing flexible cords, extension cords, cables and attachment plugs. 

The company was also issued three other-than-serious citations for failing to properly record and adequately describe injuries in the OSHA 300 log as required, and to mark floor load capacity for a storage area. 

A repeat violation exists when an employer has been cited for the same or a similar violation within last five years.  A serious violation reflects substantial probability of death or serious injury from a hazard; other-than-serious violations are directly related to job safety and health but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.

OSHA returned to the scene after the fire and is now investigating whether the cause was related to any safety or health violations.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Chemical Plants; Fire; Health and safety; OSHA; Violations

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