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Citations Issued for OH Paint Plant Explosion

Friday, November 12, 2021

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The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Yenkin-Majestic Paint Corporation for an explosion at its plant in April that killed a press operator and hospitalized eight employees.

According to the OSHA press release, an investigation found that the company had altered a kettle reactor vessel improperly and then returned the vessel to service after it failed. The vessel released a flammable vapor cloud when its manway cover and gasket failed, which ignited and caused the initial explosion.

“Yenkin-Majestic Paint Corp. could have prevented this terrible tragedy if they had followed industry standards and removed a compromised kettle from service,” said Acting OSHA Regional Administrator William Donovan in Chicago. “Knowing that this company altered equipment, failed to use a qualified fabricator and returned equipment to service aware that it did not meet safety standards is unacceptable.”

“Company leadership failed to follow their own internal audit procedures that were put in place to ensure the equipment’s integrity and that of the repair process,” said OSHA’s Area Director Larry Johnson in Columbus, Ohio.

What Happened

At 12:05 a.m. on the morning of April 8, Columbus Fire was called to respond to a report of an explosion along Leonard Avenue at the Yenkin-Majestic Paints plant. The company is reported to have 180 employees, 21 of which were working in the facility at the time of the explosion.

As a result of the explosion, eight plant workers were reported to be injured at the time, but were later reported to be in stable condition by Columbus Fire. Of the eight reported, however, Fire Battalion Chief Steve Martin said that crews had to rescue two employees that were trapped inside.

“While the fire was still burning, with limited visibility we had rescue crews go in and find the two individuals. It was kind of like they were involved in a car accident. We had to use special tools to pry them out,” Martin was quoted.

By the morning, rescue teams also made the discovery of one deceased plant worker, 44-year-old Wendell Light, who was located partially buried under the rubble. Light was a pressroom supervisor for Yenkin-Majestic Paint.

Andrew Smith, CEO of Yenkin-Majestic Paint Corporation, released this statement following the deadly blast, “The Yenkin-Majestic family is deeply saddened today. Early this morning, a serious fire broke out at our manufacturing facility on Leonard Avenue in Columbus. Tragically, one of our colleagues died and eight others suffered injuries that required medical treatment. As a family-owned company, we are focused right now on the family of the deceased, Wendell Light, and the health and well-being of our injured colleagues and their families. Our thoughts are also with our neighbors that were impacted by this incident.

“We are working hand in hand with the Columbus Fire Department, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other government agencies as they investigate. We are committed to uncovering the details behind this tragic accident. The welfare of our employees is of the utmost importance to our family. We are in the process of communicating with all of our colleagues to make sure they are informed and supported in every way needed.”

Yenkin-Majestic is a Process Safety Management site that falls under the OSHA standards for highly hazardous chemicals. In the days following the incident, hazmat teams were on the scene to help due to the hazards presented by the materials within the building.

An OSHA compliance officer was on the scene the morning following the blast and reported that the Administration had launched an investigation.

“OSHA compliance officers are at the location and are interviewing the employer, employees and witnesses, to determine if the company was following all OSHA standards and regulations,” said Scott Allen, a U.S. Department of Labor regional director for public affairs and media relations, at the time. “OSHA will not have any further information until they have completed their investigation, which, by law, they have 6 months to complete.”

CSB Investigation

According to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board update on the investigation later that month, the OPC Polymer Unit of the facility—a separate unit from the company's paint and industrial coatings divisions—was operating normally at the time of the explosion.

However, to that regard, the CSB reported that the initial cause of the explosion seemed to have been linked to a metallic kettle reactor that burst during the manufacturing of alkyd polyester resin. The kettle reactor was heated by a gas furnace.

Following the explosion and associated fires, other smaller explosions took place involving chemicals and other products stored in tanks, which resulted in the collapse of the OPC Polymer Unit.

The CSB estimated that the total damages are over $1 million. A number of materials are stored in the facility, including maleic anhydride, phthalic anhydride, xylene, and mineral spirits. A week prior to the report, the company had not yet provided the quantities of the materials at the site during the event.

The CSB added that it was coordinating its work with OSHA in its investigation. By law, the Administration had six months to issue a citation following any discovered violations. The CSB does not however, have the authority to issue citations or levy fines with its investigations and simply investigates to make recommendations after chemical incidents.

Previous Incidents and New OSHA Citations

Prior to the April incident, Yenkin-Majestic has had five past cases, according to records on the regulatory agency’s website: two in 2011 (one involving the death of another employee), one in 2012, a follow-up in 2014, and one in 2015. However, the Leonard Avenue location has had 24 total violations since 2011, including 15 “serious” violations labeled by OSHA, in which the plant reached a settlement to pay $76,203.

In 2012, the plant was cited for “a cloud containing flammable vapors was released,” which was reportedly caused by a "copolymer reaction" of flammable chemicals when over-pressurization occurred in some equipment. No injuries were reported in that incident.

OSHA stated that it has proposed $709,960 in penalties and cited Yenkin-Majestic for two willful and 33 serious safety violations regarding:

  • Process safety management;
  • Hazardous waste operations;
  • Emergency response procedures; and
  • Lack of personal protective equipment and employee training.

Yenkin-Majestic has also been placed into OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates follow-up inspections for companies who commit willful, repeated or failure-to-abate violations.

The investigation determined that the kettle reactor vessel was altered in December 2020 but not tested to ensure it maintained its pressure-containing ability, and in January the newly installed manway opening failed. A new gasket was installed, but failed to adhere to OSHA’s pressure vessel inspection procedures and the American Petroleum Institute’s pressure vessel inspection code.

According to the citation and notification of penalty document, the company had 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

The full citation document can be read here.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Department of Labor; Explosions; Fatalities; hazardous materials; Hazards; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; OSHA; OSHA; Safety

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