A federal crackdown on chemical plants that are ill-prepared for a catastrophic release has now swept in Arkema Inc., the global raw materials supplier to the coatings, construction and sealant industries.
|Arkema’s Houston facility has been cited on three occasions since 2006 for similar violations.|
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited the industrial chemical producer for 12 serious, one repeat and one other-than-serious violation for allegedly exposing workers to multiple safety hazards while producing organic chemicals at its plant in Houston, TX.
The violations were the third round of a similar nature for the plant since 2006. Proposed fines total $117,100.
France’s largest chemical producer, Arkema has its U.S. headquarters in King of Prussia, PA.
‘We Have a Safe Plant’
R Chad Crittendon, PhD, Arkema’s Director of Industrial Safety, said in an emailed statement that the company was reviewing OSHA’s allegations.
“We take this very seriously and always strive to be compliant,” Crittendon said. “We received news of this yesterday [July 11] and are still evaluating OSHA’s citations. Some of the allegations go back a number of years, and we need time to review. We will have a clearer picture by Aug.1.”
He added, “We have a safe plant. Is there room for improvement? Yes. But we have not had any lost work time incidents in more than two years, and our corporate mandate is a drive to zero. We’ll be looking into this and making adjustments wherever necessary.”
OSHA’s Houston North Area Office initiated an inspection of the Houston facility in January after receiving an employee complaint. The agency later expanded the inspection under its Process Safety Management National Emphasis Program, which was launched in late 2011.
That program is designed to ensure that companies reduce or eliminate workplace hazards related to the catastrophic release of toxic, reactive, flammable or explosive chemicals. The program includes stepped-up planned and unannounced inspections.
Process Safety Management has become a growing concern for OSHA in recent years, following a series of explosions and uncontrolled chemical releases in facilities across many industries. OSHA issued its first PSM standard in 1992.
The current case accuses Arkema of a variety of violations at the Houston facility.
The lapses risked uncontrolled release of hydrogen sulfide vapor and carbon disulfide liquids and vapor, according to OSHA records.
The 12 serious violations include alleged failure to:
• Compile process safety information on instruments used as safeguards and on relief system design;
• Use recognized and good engineering practices;
• Follow recommended process hazard analysis procedures; and
• Inspect and test equipment identified as safeguards.
Serious violations reflect “substantial probability” of death or serious injury from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
The other-than-serious violation is for failing to develop safe work practices to control entrance into covered processes.
The repeat violation accuses Arkema of failing to annually review and certify operating procedures to ensure that current practices are being followed. A repeat violation exists when an employer has been cited for the same or a similar violation within five years.
OSHA cited the same plant for a serious PSM violation in March 2010. That case, which also included a Lockout/Tagout violation, also was triggered by a complaint. Arkema paid a $6,300 fine (reduced from $9,000) for two serious violations.
The 2010 case echoed yet another round of citations—for PSM, lockout/tagout and general-duty violations—issued against the plant in 2006, OSHA records show. In the 2006 case, the company paid a fine of $3,500, reduced from $11,250.
“Process safety management prevents the unexpected release of toxic, reactive or flammable liquids and gases in processes involving highly hazardous chemicals,” said David Doucet, director of OSHA’s Houston North Area Office.
“It’s vital that Arkema ensure that safeguards are in place to protect the safety of workers at this facility.”
Arkema manufactures industrial chemicals for the coatings, adhesives and sealants, transportation, solvents and other markets worldwide. The company has 28 manufacturing locations in the U.S.