Authorities are investigating the death of a contract worker who was cleaning a fume tank at a South Carolina paper mill owned by Resolute Forest Products.
Samir Storey, 39, of Monroe, NC, perished about 1:30 a.m. Jan. 22 while cleaning a 10-by-40-foot tank in the plant's power generation area during a scheduled maintenance outage at the former AbitibiBowater plant in Catawba, SC, company spokewoman Debbie Johnston told the Charlotte Observer.
“There was not an explosion or anything like that,” said Johnston. “It’s a work-related incident.”
Storey was one of three employees of Tradesmen International, a construction staffing company, working at the time. The names of the other workers were not released. One was treated at the scene; the other was treated at a local hospital and released, reports said.
Authorites believe the contract worker was overcome by fumes in the tank.
Reports of the incident were still emerging Monday (Jan. 28).
York County Emergency Management Director Cotton Howell told WRHI radio that Storey was killed while suspended 16 feet into a 75-foot decommissioned scrubber tank. Two other men were inside the confined space when Howell says they appeared to be overwhelmed by fumes, the station reported.
All three workers wore protective equipment and were properly trained to clean the tank, which collects odorless chemical fumes from the mill's power generating area instead of releasing them into the atmosphere, Johnston said in an interview Monday.
Those fumes are then burned in the mill's power boilers. The tank is cleaned every nine months, Johnston told reporters.
The plant employs about 600 people. No evacuations were ordered.
The state Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration and the county agency are both investigating.
Pete Barger, area manager for Tradesmen International, told the Charlotte Observer that the details of Storey's death "are very limited."
"This kind of situation again is tragic and incredibly uncommon for our company," he said.
Last year at the plant, four men were burned after a substance known as “white liquor” leaked in a pulping area.
The workers, all of whom were wearing safety equipment that included hard hats, safety glasses, uniforms and steel-toed boots, were covered “head to toe” with the chemical, according to a report issued by the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration and obtained by The Herald online.
OSHA determined that Resolute Forest Products didn’t violate state safety policies, and no citations were issued.
However, other citations were issued in a separate case last year for respiratory protection and confined space issues.
In 2000, reports said, two contract welders were killed while connecting pipes in an outdoor tank.
The safety of contract workers is the subject of a new white paper by the nonprofit Center for Progressive Reform.
"At the Company's Mercy: Protecting Contingent Workers from Unsafe Working Conditions" notes that more workers are being employed on a contingency basis without protections afforded full-time employees.