Cincinnati based Environmental Enterprises, an environmental services company specialising in industrial and hazardous waste management has been cited by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) with 22 safety and health violations following a fire and explosion at its Cincinnati waste treatment facility on December 28 last year.
Two employees were severely burned by the fire, one fatally.
OSHA said that it has determined that the fire and explosion was caused by the ignition of an organic industrial filter cartridge filled with sodium chlorate, a strong oxidiser. The likely source of the ignition was found to be an electrically-powered reciprocating saw that the employees received permission to use to remove metal end caps and mesh from the filter.
When in contact with incompatible materials, including organics, OSHA explained that sodium chlorate becomes sensitive to reactions capable of resulting in fire and violent explosions.
“Environmental Enterprises demonstrated a complete disregard for employee's safety and health by failing to recognise and train employees on potentially dangerous interactions between materials being handled and tools in use,” said Bill Wilkerson, OSHA's area director for its Cincinnati office.
“Even after this tragic explosion, the company failed to immediately address procedures and ensure employees knew how to use appropriate personal protective equipment and properly handle hazardous waste such as sodium chlorate. OSHA is committed to protecting workers on the job, and educating employers about safety and health regulations,” he added.
The four wilful violations cited involve failing to develop and implement hazardous waste handling procedures, to provide new training to employees assigned to handle waste materials, to select and ensure the use of proper personal protective equipment, and to train workers on its selection and use for protection from various materials that are part of their routine assignments.
OSHA explained that a wilful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing of voluntary disregard for the law's requirement, or plain indifference to employee safety and health.
A further nine serious safety violations relate to the use of electrical equipment within the flammable storage room causing a fire hazard, not developing material handling procedures, inadequate hazardous waste processing and permit-confined space procedures, failing to conduct periodic inspections of energy-control procedures and lack of training and personal protective equipment for employees assigned to work on energized circuits.
Another seven serious health violations involve the lack of a hearing conservation program; improper storage of flammable liquids; failing to develop a hazard communication program; not fully developing decontamination procedures and a written emergency response plan; allowing lead, inorganic arsenic and cadmium dust accumulation; inadequate exposure control plan; and violations of the bloodborne pathogen program.
A serious violation is said to have occurred 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.
Severe Violator Program
As a result of the four wilful violations found related to the fatality, OSHA said that it has placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law.
The organisation explained that the program focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing wilful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations.
Under the program, OSHA may inspect any of the employer's facilities if it has reasonable grounds to believe there are similar violations at related work sites of the employer.
OSHA has also proposed fines of $325,710.
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