A tragedy hit the rubber industry May 16 when an explosion and fire at Rouse Polymerics International Inc. left five workers dead and seven more injured.
The bagging bin at the Vicksburg, Miss., rubber recycling facility exploded at around 6 p.m. that day, with 20 employees inside the plant at the time. The fire spread through the building and destroyed it.
The incident changed many people's lives for the worse, and altered the Rouse business as well.
The company will concentrate on high-end polymer production in the future, and will open a new facility on its Vicksburg site early in 2003.
The new building will house three production lines, but the paring down of its operations will mean a large reduction of workers. CEO Michael Rouse said he should have about 20 employees by spring, a far cry from the 100 the company had before the fire.
Rouse Polymerics also had to face the legal aftermath of the event. On Nov. 18, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration levied a fine of $210,600 on the company, citing two ``willful'' and 22 ``serious'' violations at the plant. OSHA cited the firm for exposing workers to fire hazards caused by accumulated rubber dust and for using equipment and wiring not approved for that particular workplace.
However, eight days later Rouse Polymerics and OSHA announced an agreement in which the two willful violations were reduced to serious, and the fine was reduced to $187,680.
Some suits also have been filed as a result of the fire and the injuries victims suffered.
While it appears Mississippi workers' compensation laws may limit or prevent Rouse Polymerics' involvement in cases brought by injured workers or the deceased's families, other companies and individuals have been targeted.
Legal actions thus far have been filed in county and federal court, primarily against those responsible for the manufacture, installation and maintenance of the safety control panel for the Rouse operation's No. 2 drying system.
But one of the defendants-Astec Industries Inc. of Chattanooga, Tenn.-filed a countersuit against Rouse Polymerics, claiming its agreement with the firm indemnified it against potential suits.
Astec is seeking costs it incurs as a result of the lawsuits.