Safety Fines after Worker’s Death

Monday, March 5, 2012 @ 04:03 PM gHale

Membrane Technology faces nearly $56,000 in workplace safety fines for a deadly explosion last year, said Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) officials.

At 3:40 p.m. on Sept. 2, Adrian Martin, 56, was mixing butane, helium, nitrogen and methane in a propane cylinder with a maximum allowable working pressure of 300 psi, according to an investigation summary. The concentration of the gases, however, boosted pressure to between 700 and 800 psi.

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The 15-inch-diameter, nearly 4-foot-tall cylinder exploded as Martin added more methane in an effort to achieve a 90 percent concentration of the gas, the report said. Had the San Jose resident succeeded, the pressure in the cylinder would have reached at least 1,200 psi.

Investigators also determined the cylinder did not have a proper pressure relief valve. The device was set to activate above 3,360 psi, more than 10 times the maximum allowable working pressure of the cylinder.

“I’m not the inspector,” Cal/OSHA spokeswoman Erika Monterroza said, “but to me, this looks like a recipe for disaster — and it was.”

The blast threw Martin 15 feet into an adjoining room and caused a fatal chest wound, the report said. Jenny He, a researcher, also suffered an injury; an update on her condition was not immediately available.

Altogether, Membrane Technology & Research is facing six “serious” violations and one “general” violation. The proposed penalties for the violations total $55,850, according to a citation and notification of penalty sent to the company Feb. 24.

The company suffered penalties for improper use of cylinders and failure to equip them with correct pressure relief valves. Several of the cylinders had labels saying they contained hydrogen when they actually had other gases.

Martin worked as a chemical engineer in Romania before taking a job at Membrane Technology & Research four years ago.

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