Global sealant and adhesive giant Bostik Inc. faces 50 federal safety citations and $917,000 in fines for an explosion March 13 that injured four workers at a company chemical plant in Middleton, MA.
The explosion and four-alarm fire rocked the plant on a Sunday night, significantly damaging the facility. Nearby residents were urged to stay in their homes with doors and windows closed, but no evacuations were ordered. News reports said the blast was heard miles away.
|The blast was traced to two valves that were inadvertently left open, allowing vapors to ignite.|
Four employees were treated at area hospitals and released by the next day.
Bostik preliminarily traced the blast to ignition of flammable vapors. “Findings point to a single instance in which two internal valves in an open position appear to have allowed flammable vapors to escape into the building and ignite when exposed to an internal ignition source,” the company said in a statement.
OSHA’s inspection confirmed that theory.
The plant’s general manager told WHDH-TV that he did not know what chemicals had been in use or what products were being manufactured at the time of the explosion.
However, the company did hire the environmental consulting firm GEI Consultants, Inc. (GEI) in January 2011 to investigate reports by two residents of odors in the area. GEI identified “slight intensity odors” associated with the plant in February but said they posed no health risk.
The OSHA citations, detailed in two documents, identify numerous serious deficiencies in the company’s process safety management (PSM) program.
A PSM program details requirements and procedures employers must follow to proactively address hazards associated with processes and equipment that involve large amounts of hazardous chemicals. In the Bostik case, OSHA said, the chemical was acetone, used in a PSM-covered process known as direct solvation.
OSHA found that the process safety information for the solvation process was incomplete. The agency said that the employer’s analysis of hazards related to the process 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, OSHA said, the company did not ensure that a forklift and electrical equipment, such as a light fixture, switches and a motor, were approved for use in Class 1 hazardous locations where flammable gases or vapors are present.
As a result, OSHA issued Bostik an extraordinary nine willful citations, with $630,000 in proposed fines, for these conditions. A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.
The 41 serious violations alleged by OSHA included:
• Storing 55-gallon drums of flammable liquid in exit areas;
• Lack of an emergency response plan;
• Uncontrolled use of electronic devices in the presence of flammable liquids and vapors after the explosion;
• Inadequate training and refresher training for first responders;
• Insufficient training in respirator and fire extinguisher use for first responders;
• Hazards in electrical equipment;
• Inappropriate lighting for a hazardous location;
• Use of administrative controls, rather than engineering controls, to safeguard against catastrophic hazards;
• Outdated piping and instrument diagrams;
• Employees unaware of fire and explosion hazards; and
• Lack of many written procedures.
In a prepared statement, Bostik said the OSHA findings were “undergoing careful study by the full Bostik team and our outside experts.”
Noting that OSHA has a defined process for contesting citations, Bostik said: “If deemed necessary and appropriate following our team’s study of the initial findings, Bostik is prepared to follow this process and seek review of the alleged citations consistent with our rights to do so.”
It added: “Out of respect for the agency and the appeals process afforded to us by OSHA, we will issue no additional comment on the initial findings until the remainder of the process is complete.”
The company noted that the Middleton plant had been in operation since the late 19th century and that the explosion “arose from operations that are not performed at other Bostik locations in the United States. While we regret the incident, we are proud of the progress we have made in upgrading our Middleton facility fully consistent with the state of the art of our modern operations worldwide.”
Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, said that the requirements of OSHA's PSM standard “are stringent and comprehensive, because the stakes are so high. Failure to evaluate, anticipate, address and prevent hazardous conditions associated with a process can result in a catastrophic incident such as an explosion.”
Added Jeffrey A. Erskine, OSHA’s area director for northeastern Massachusetts: “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. The company did not take adequate steps to address those conditions.”
Erskine added: “Luckily, the explosion happened when there were few workers in the plant. Otherwise, this incident could have resulted in a catastrophic loss of life.”
Bostik Inc. has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, meet with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings.
Headquartered in Wauwatosa, WI, Bostik is part of Bostik S.A. based in France, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of adhesives and sealants. Bostik’s markets include construction adhesives, flooring installations, building components and marine.