WAUKEGAN, Ill.—The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed a fine of nearly $1.6 million against AB Specialty Silicones L.L.C. for 12 alleged willful safety violations connected with a fatal explosion and fire at the company's manufacturing facility May 3.
Most of the citations in the report involved electrical wiring in the plant. OSHA's Oct. 25 report stated that from April 29 to May 3, AB had in use electrical fixtures, conduits and wiring around a reactor in the plant. The report said that those items "were not intrinsically safe, approved for the hazardous (classified) location, or safe for the hazardous (classified) location."
The same was true of an electrical control panel in use at the plant at the same time, according to OSHA.
AB also was cited for handling and processing flammable liquids in areas where electrical wiring and fixtures were improperly installed; for not properly classifying and dealing with areas where flammable vapor-air mixtures were present; and for using unapproved, propane-powered forklift trucks in areas where flammable liquids were used.
"Employers must employ hazard recognition to protect workers from harm, especially in high hazard industries," said Loren Sweatt, principal deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "By ignoring safety and health requirements, this employer created an unsafe work environment with deadly consequences."
In each citation, OSHA fined AB the legal maximum of $132,598, for a total of $1,591,156. The agency also gave AB a deadline of Dec. 12 to correct all the alleged violations, and placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
Under OSHA regulations, AB has 15 days from the Oct. 25 report issuance to pay the fines, contest them before an administrative law judge or seek a private conference with the OSHA area director.
In a statement, AB said it is reviewing the citations and will continue to cooperate fully with the agency.
"It is important to recognize the scope of the OSHA report goes beyond the elements that contributed to the tragic explosion," the company said. "Our internal investigation, as well as the Fire Marshal's report, confirmed the incident was in fact an accident, and there was no willful intent involved."
Employee safety, AB said, remains a top priority.
"While we are proud of our historically strong safety record preceding this accident, we commit to continuously improving ourselves and aiming to ensure our facilities meet or exceed all regulatory standards," it said.
The OSHA citations are not the only government actions AB has faced since the explosion that killed four: Byron Biehn, 53; Allen Stevens, 29; Jeff Cummings, 57; and Daniel Nicklas, 24. On May 31, the Illinois Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit against AB, seeking payment for cleanup of contaminants released into the soil, water and air from the fire and efforts to extinguish it.
The Waukegan Fire Department, which launched an investigation immediately after the incident, said in early September that it could not determine a definite cause for the explosion and subsequent blaze. At the time, the department said its work was hampered because all the key witnesses died in the explosion.
OSHA inspectors investigated the explosion site from May 4-Oct 24, according to the citation report, issued Oct. 25.