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Firms Fined in Deadly Paint Dust Blast

Friday, February 22, 2013

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Federal regulators are holding three contracting firms liable for a combustible-dust flash fire that claimed the lives of two workers in a paint booth at a Texas facility in August.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a total of 22 citations and $119,840 in fines Wednesday (Feb. 20) against Watco Mechanical Services, Jordan General Contractors Inc., and JP Electric for the incident at Watco's Railcar Shop near Houston.

Jordan did not respond Thursday (Feb. 21) to a request for comment. A call to JP Electric could not be completed.

Watco associate general counsel Thomas E. Hayes issued this statement Feb. 25:

"Watco would like to first offer its condolenses to those families of the employees of Jordon Construction that were involved in the incident last August. As to the OSHA citations, Watco has scheduled an informal hearing with OSHA to discuss the pending citations in order to assure OSHA that Watco takes safety very seriously.  Following the informal hearing, Watco will determine if there is a need to file formal objections.

"Most of the citations involve “confined space” requirements that had nothing to do with the August fire involving three employees of an outside contractor.  Moreover, at no time were there any Watco  team members hurt or injured in this incident."

Paint Dust Ignites

The fire broke out about 12:30 p.m. Aug. 19 as three men were at work in a paint booth that was under construction at  Watco's facility in Hockley, TX, according to the local ABC affiliate.

The report said the men, whose names have not been released, were working in a paint booth under construction when paint dust ignited.

Watco Mechanical Services
 

Two employees of Jordan General Contractors were killed and a third was injured in the blast at Watco Mechanical Services. Both companies, and a third, were cited.

The third man was severely injured and was airlifted to an area hospital, but he survived, reports said.

The facility repairs and rebuilds trains and railcars. Its services include painting and blasting.

All of the men were employees of Jordan General Contractors of Magnolia, TX.

Violations

OSHA cited Pittsburg, KS-based Watco Mechanical Services for 14 serious violations related to combustible dust, respirator usage and confined-space hazards. The citations, carrying $91,300 in fines, include alleged failure to:

  • Control fugitive emissions of combustible dust;
  • Keep work areas clean of combustible dust;
  • Provide warning signs to alert employees to combustible-dust hazards;
  • Keep emergency cylinder respirators fully charged;
  • Identify and evaluate confined-space hazards; and
  • Develop and implement confined-space procedures.

OSHA also cited Watco for two other-than-serious violations involving failure to certify the use of emergency respirators and document filter changes.

Jordan General Contractors was cited with seven serious violations and fined a total of $20,240 for allegedly failing to:

  • Develop and implement a respiratory program;
  • Provide training on the hazards of working with combustible dust;
  • Ensure cutting operations were halted in the presence of combustible dust;
  • Ensure the use of a body belt when working in an aerial lift; and
  • Ensure that aerial lift loads did not exceed required limits.

Conroe, TX-based JP Electric, which assisted in demolition activities, received one serious safety violation for allegedly failing to prohibit cutting operations in the presence of combustible dust. Proposed penalties total $2,800.

A serious violation reflects "substantial probability" of death or serious injury from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

Cleaning combustible dust

A technician safely cleans combustible dust with an explosion-proof vacuum and protective equipment.

"This incident underscores the seriousness of exposing workers to the inadequate control of combustible dust," said David Doucet, OSHA's area director at its Houston North office. "Following OSHA standards helps to save lives and avoid such needless tragedy."

Combustible-Dust Dangers

Any combustible material can become explosible at high enough concentrations, OSHA notes. From lemon pulp to sugar to rubber to zinc, the agency lists dozens of sources of combustible dust on its site.

Imperial Sugar
U.S. Chemical Safety Board

Legislators are again demanding a new industrial standard on combustible dust. A dust-triggered blast killed 14 workers at Imperial Sugar in Georgia in 2008.

More than 280 combustible-dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 killed 119 workers, injured 718, and extensively damaged numerous industrial facilities, OSHA said.The agency launched a Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program in 2008.

But safety experts and legislators want more. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has urged OSHA for years to develop a standard for regulating worker exposure to industrial combustible dust.

Just last week, three members of Congress introduced a bill that would force OSHA to act.

The bill's sponsors include Rep. John Barrow (D-GA), whose district was the site of a catastrophic combustible-dust explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery in 2008. The blast killed 14 workers and injured 36 others.

   

Tagged categories: Access; Accidents; Combustible Dust; Confined space; Fatalities; General contractors; Health and safety; OSHA; Respirators; Shop-applied coatings; Spray booths

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