3-D Printer Blast Brings Fines

Friday, May 23, 2014 @ 11:05 AM gHale

After a November explosion and fire where a worker suffered third degree burns, Powderpart Inc., a Woburn, MA, 3-D printing company, is facing fines of $64,400 for one willful and nine serious violations of workplace safety standards, said officials at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

OSHA’s Andover Area Office found the company failed to prevent and protect its workforce from the fire and explosion hazards of reactive, combustible metal powders, such as titanium and aluminum alloys, used in the company’s three-dimensional printing process.

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“The fire and explosion hazards when working with titanium and aluminum are established, particularly when the materials are in powder form,” said Jeffrey Erskine, OSHA’s area director for Middlesex and Essex counties. “Just as it’s easier to start a campfire with kindling than with logs, it’s easier for a metal fire to start when you’re working with metal powder that is as fine as confectioner’s sugar.”

Powderpart failed to eliminate known sources of potential ignition and follow pertinent instructions from equipment manufacturers, and did not alert the Woburn Fire Department to the workplace presence of hazardous materials. Additionally, Powderpart located an employee workstation and flammable powders next to an area with explosion potential.

In addition to the fire and explosion dangers, other serious hazards included the use of unapproved electrical equipment; electrical equipment and wiring that were unsuitable for a hazardous location; failure to train employees on chemical hazards and safeguards; failure to supply employees with all necessary protective clothing, equipment and training; no written respiratory protection program; and failure to post danger tags in potentially explosive areas.

“Establishments that use metal powders in this new technology need to scrutinize their processes and take steps to prevent and protect their employees from fire and explosion hazards that arise with these materials,” said Robert Hooper, OSHA’s acting regional administrator for New England. “The market for 3-D printed parts made from titanium and aluminum alloys includes the automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, dental and jewelry industries. Basic safety measures must be incorporated into this 21st century technology, so that it can grow without harming the employees who are building this new industry.”

One willful violation, with a $14,000 penalty, was for Powderpart’s failure to have any Class D metal fire extinguishers. OSHA found Powderpart knew they could not extinguish titanium and aluminum fires with a regular fire extinguisher or with water, and knew that its manufacturing process presented potential fire hazards; however, there were no Class D metal fire extinguishers on-site during the explosion and fire. A willful violation is one committed with intentional disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

Nine serious violations, with $50,400 in penalties, were for the remaining hazards. A serious violation occurs 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.

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