Authorities are investigating a flash fire that injured four workers on a coating line in an Alabama aluminum plant.
|The plant employs nearly 800 people. Those injured in the fire were contract workers not directly employed by the company.|
The fire broke out just before 2 p.m. Tuesday (April 3) at Wise Alloys LLC of Muscle Shoals, AL. Although the blaze was extinguished quickly, three injured workers were taken to a local hospital, and a fourth was flown to the burn center at the University of Alabama - Birmingham Hospital.
Fire officials said the fire broke out in a coating line at Wise Alloys’ rolling mill facility, which manufactures bare and coated aluminum coil. The company is the third-largest U.S. producer of aluminum can stock for the beverage and food industries.
Both the company and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investigating the accident.
“We had four people, who were contract workers and not Wise employees, doing routine maintenance in the coating line area,” Sandra Scarbrough, senior vice president for human resources, told the Times Daily. “All four were injured.”
Emergency officials said the fire involved methyl ethyl ketone, a flammable industrial solvent used in coatings and paint thinner. Numerous agencies, including OSHA, regulate MEK usage and exposure.
|One of the largest plants of its kind in the world, the Wise Alloys facility offers aluminum casting, hot rolling, cold rolling, annealing, coil coating, slitting, leveling, packing, shipping and storage.|
“Apparently, it was a quick flash fire that could have come from a spark that hit the chemical,” Muscle Shoals Fire Marshal Donald Ray Coons told the newspaper.
The county’s Hazmat unit was not called out, officials said.
Reynolds Metals Company built the facility in 1941; Wise Alloys purchased it in 1999. The plant is one of the largest of its kind in the world, offering aluminum casting, hot rolling, cold rolling, annealing, coil coating, slitting, leveling, packing, shipping and storage. It employs nearly 800 people.
OSHA records show six inspections of the facility triggered by complaints in the last decade. The company was cited three times, usually for violations involving general duty and powered trucks:
• In September 2011, the company paid $3,500 for one serious violation in a fine reduced from $5,000.
• In 2004, the company was cited for one serious and one repeat violation. The repeat violation was later dropped and the fine reduced to $1,875 from $14,385.
• In 2002, the company paid a fine of $3,188 (reduced from $4,250) for two serious and two other-than-serious violations.
The facility also had a fire in November 2010, but no one was injured and the facility was not seriously damaged. The plant manager at the time said the fire broke out in an area where equipment was stored and that “some container with some oily paper flamed up.”
The company did not respond to a request for comment Friday (April 6).