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Plant Blast Draws $110K Fine

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

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A resin plant that has been the site of hazardous-waste sanctions and accidents that burned three workers is facing its third federal case in four years.

Polychem Services Inc. in Chicago Heights, IL, has been fined $110,000 in proposed penalties for six willful, one repeat and four serious safety violations after two temporary workers, 34 and 35 years old, were injured in an explosion Sept. 4, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced.

Willful violations, OSHA's highest level of infraction, are relatively rare. Multiple willful violations are seldom seen.

The workers in the September blast were hospitalized with first- and second-degree burns, and were unable to return to work for months, according to OSHA.

Polychem forklift explosion
OSHA

Two temporary workers were injured in an explosion at Polychem Services Inc. in Chicago Heights, IL. The blast was ignited by a gas-powered forklift (not pictured here). Another worker previously suffered second-degree burns at the facility in 2010.

Polychem produces polyesters, alkyl resins, acrylic resins and thermal-pressure addition resins, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has also investigated the company for waste-disposal violations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

In 2012, the EPA initiated an emergency removal action at the plant after finding leaking and open containers with ignitable, corrosive and toxic wastes.

Temporary Work Assignments

The September explosion was ignited by a gas-powered forklift, OSHA said. One victim had worked at the plant for about six weeks and was hospitalized for six days. The other had been on site for about 11 months and was hospitalized for one day.

"Two employees in their prime work years have suffered severe and painful injuries that keep them from their livelihood because Polychem Services ignored worker safety," said Kathy Webb, OSHA's area director in Calumet City, IL.

A phone number listed for the company went unanswered Tuesday (March 10).

EPA

In 2012, the EPA initiated an emergency removal action at the facility because of leaking and open containers with ignitable, corrosive and toxic wastes.

Both employees were assigned to the plant by Crown Services Inc., a temporary service employer. The company was not cited because it did not oversee or direct work at the site.

OSHA notes that temporary workers are at much higher risk of workplace injury and illness than permanent employees. The agency's 2013 Temporary Worker Initiative is designed to raise awareness of the problem and offer safety guidance to both employers and placement agencies.

11 Violations

The new case includes six willful violations, committed "with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements or plain indifference to employee safety and health." The citations allege failure to:

  • Provide medical evaluations for employees using respirators;
  • Fit test employees for respirators;
  • Properly train employees on respirator use;
  • Provide an eyewash and safety shower for employees working with corrosive chemicals;
  • Provide a suitable industrial vehicle for use in a hazardous location; and
  • Train employees on hazards associated with handling hazardous chemicals.

A repeat violation was cited for failing to train workers on required personal protective equipment. OSHA issues repeat violations if an employer was cited for the same or a similar violation within five years.

Polychem was cited for this violation in May 2011 after a worker at the plant suffered second- and third-degree burns in a confined-space accident in November 2010.

The company received one willful and five serious citations after employees were required to enter a portable baker tank and reactor vessel that had not been ventilated or evaluated for safe entry.

Polychem Services Inc.
EPA

"Two employees in their prime work years have suffered severe and painful injuries that keep them from their livelihood because Polychem Services ignored worker safety," an OSHA official said.

Four serious violations alleged failure to:

  • Provide and require the use of appropriate personal protective equipment;
  • Train employees in the use of powered industrial vehicles;
  • Eliminate trip, slip and fall hazards; and
  • Provide running water and operating toilets.

Serious violations reflect substantial probability of death or serious injury from hazards the employer knew, or should have known, about.

"Lack of training, combined with using a forklift not approved for this environment, proved an explosive combination. When you operate a plant producing flammable materials and byproducts, worker protection must be job one," Webb said.

The company has 15 days from receiving the citations to comply, contest the findings, or request an informal conference with OSHA's area director.

   

Tagged categories: Explosions; Health & Safety; Health and safety; North America; OSHA; Personal protective equipment; Resins; Worker training

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