Paint Maker Fined $262K in Blasts, Fire


A Chicago-area paint factory rocked by explosions and a fire is now facing more than two dozen safety violations, including allegations of blocked exits and mismanagement of hazardous chemicals.

Fox Valley Systems Inc. (Cary, IL) has been cited for 26 safety violations—including six willful and 20 serious— totaling $262,000 in proposed penalties, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Thursday (Sept. 5).

OSHA conducted an inspection of Fox Valley Systems in Cary, IL, after two explosions and a massive fire injured three people on March 6. The explosions blew out both the front and back walls of the buildings, and firefighters from 15 departments battled the blaze for several hours.

According to OSHA, "Flammable vapors ignited in the production facility, resulting in an explosion and fire that caused extensive damage to the building and the interconnected aerosol-propellant charging rooms."

Several willful violations—OSHA's highest level of infraction—were issued because locked doors impeded exit routes and snow blocked exits, slowing employees from exiting the plan quickly, OSHA alleged.

"In part, workers were injured in this tragic explosion because they could not get out quickly because of blocked exit doors. This is unacceptable for any business, and especially for one handling hazardous materials and chemicals daily," Nick Walters, OSHA's regional administrator in Chicago, said in a statement.

The company has been placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations.

A call to the company on Friday (Sept. 6) went unanswered, and the company's voicemail was full.

In business since 1970, Fox Valley Systems describes itself as "The original marking and striping company," as well as stating that it created the first aerosol spray can that works upside-down.

Other Agencies Get Involved

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency announced March 18 that it was preparing an interim injunction order that would prevent Fox Valley Systems from reopening until the company satisfied several conditions, including conducting a root cause analysis of the accident, determining any runoff contamination and cleaning it up, and developing a plan to remove flammable chemicals and propellants that remained in the facility.

On March 21, Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced that the company would remain closed until the cause of the explosion and fire could be determined. Madigan's office also filed a three-count complaint alleging substantial danger to the environment, air pollution and water pollution hazards resulting from the incident.

Each count seeks the maximum statutory civil penalty of $50,000 per violation and $10,000 for each day the company is in violation.

Amateur video captured the second of two explosions that hit Fox Valley Systems on March 6.

On Friday, a spokesperson for the Illinois EPA said the office could not provide any updates because "this is a legal matter now" and deferred further questions to the Attorney General's office.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General's office said that the case was currently pending in McHenry County circuit court. A statement e-mailed Friday to PaintSquare News said, "Per the agreed order also entered last March, the company was to conduct an analysis of events that led to the explosion, the effects of the incident on the surrounding environment, etc. That report is being reviewed by our office and the Illinois EPA."

Willful Violations

The willful violations (those committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for, or plain indifference to, employee safety and health) allege that:

  • Employees were not able to open an exit route door from the inside without keys, tools or special knowledge;
  • The route from the conveyor room to the exit door was blocked by pallets, and the exit door from the conveyor room to the parking lot was blocked by snow;
  • Fox did not compile information pertaining to the equipment in the covered process (propellant charging) and did not document that the equipment complies with generally accepted good engineering practices;
  • The company had no written operating procedures with clear instructions for safely conducting activities involved in the covered process;
  • Employer did not establish written procedures to maintain the ongoing integrity of the process equipment for the covered process and did not perform inspections and tests on the process equipment; and
  • Power-industrial trucks designated for use in locations where volatile flammable liquids or flammable gases are handled, processed or used, but where hazardous liquids, vapors or gases are normally confined in closed containers, were not used in the production room.

Each willful violation carries a proposed penalty of $35,000.

Serious Violations

The serious violations, or those that occur when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known about, included:

  • Failure to provide adequate drainage or dikes for the outside atmospheric tanks for toluene, acetone and lactol spirits to prevent accidental discharge of liquid ($2,000);
  • Failure to provide a three-point lock on the metal storage cabinet for flammable liquids ($2,800);
  • Indoor storage room for flammable and combustible liquids were not provided with noncombustible liquid-tight raised sills or ramps at least four inches high, nor was the floor in the storage area at least four inches below the surrounding floor, and there was not an open-grated trench inside the room which drained to a safe location ($2,800);
  • Flammable materials stored in the raw material storage warehouse were in excess of the maximum allowed ($2,800);
  • Electrical equipment and wiring inside storage rooms for flammable liquids were general purpose and not approved for hazardous locations and not intrinsically safe, and conduits for the electrical equipment were not threaded ($2,800);
  • 55-gallon drums of flammable liquids were stacked three drums high ($2,800);
  • Approximately 8,300 gallons of wash solvent (toluene) was stored in the general warehouse ($2,800);
  • Areas using flammable liquids were not ventilated at a rate of not less than one cubic foot per minute per square foot of solid floor area ($2,800);
  • Production room floor at the paint can filling unit was covered unnecessarily with cardboard, which is a combustible material ($2,000);
  • Employer did not develop a written plan of action regarding the implementation of the required elements of employee participation for the covered process ($2,800);
  • Employer did not compile information concerning the technology of the covered process, such as safe upper and lower limits for items such as temperatures, pressures, flows or compositions, and evaluation of the consequences of deviations, including those affecting the safety and health of employees ($2,800);
  • Employer did not update and revalidate a previously conducted process hazard analysis of the covered process ($2,800);
  • Employer did not develop and implement safe work practices to provide for the control of hazards during operations such as lockout/tag out, confined space entry, and opening process equipment or piping for the covered process ($2,800);
  • Employer did not train each employee in an overview of the covered process and in safe operating procedures and work practices ($2,800);
  • Employer did not train employees, or contract employees, involved in maintaining the on-going integrity of process equipment in an overview of the inspection process and the procedures required to perform the employee's job tasks for the covered process ($2,800);
  • Employer did not establish an emergency plan for the entire plant, including procedures for reporting a fire or other emergency, and the employee alarm system did not provide warning for necessary emergency action ($2,800);
  • Employer did not certify that they have evaluated compliance at least every three years with the regulation section for process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals ($2,800);
  • Listed or labeled electrical equipment was not used or installed in accordance with instructions included in the listing or labeling ($1,200);
  • Emergency lights and heat lamps mounted on the tippers did not have a continuous path to ground ($2,000); and
  • The conductor entering the box on the emergency lighting in the general warehouse was not protected from abrasion and unused openings in boxes, cabinets or fittings were not effectively closed ($2,800).

August Inspection, Past Citations

In August, OSHA also conducted a separate safety inspection of the company's paint striping, cart manufacturing plant in the same warehouse.

OSHA cited Fox Valley Systems for 11 violations stemming from this inspection involving electrical equipment deficiences; not implementing safe electrical work practices and not providing electrically rated personal protective equipment; omissions in chemical labeling; failure to develop a hazardous energy control program; forklift training deficiencies; and not having fall protection at a ladder hatchway providing access to the roof.

Proposed penalties totaled $22,800.

Fox Valley Systems has received several OSHA citations in the past. Most recently, in 2009, the company was cited with two serious violations involving heavy machinery. In 2004, OSHA also issued two serious violations, citing standards for "general requirements" and "hazardous (classified) locations."

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to contest them and schedule an informal conference.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Aerosol coatings; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Explosions; Fire; hazardous materials; Health & Safety; Health and safety; OSHA; Striping

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