After Blast, Safety Fines for Manufacturer

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 @ 04:03 PM gHale

Two temporary workers injured in an explosion at Polychem Services Inc., were unable to return to work for months after suffering from first- and second-degree burns and now the company is facing $110,000 in fines for six willful, one repeat and four serious safety violations, said officials at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

After learning of the Sept. 4 explosion, which ended up ignited by a gas-powered forklift, OSHA investigators inspected the Chicago Heights, IL, facility.

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“Two employees in their prime work years have suffered severe and painful injuries that keep them from their livelihood because Polychem Services ignored worker safety,” said Kathy Webb, OSHA’s area director in Calumet City. “Lack of training, combined with using a forklift not approved for this environment, proved an explosive combination. When you operate a plant producing flammable materials and byproducts, worker protection must be job one.”

Both employees worked at the plant under an assignment from Crown Services Inc., a temporary service employer. The 34-year-old worker, employed at the facility for about six weeks, ended up hospitalized for six days. The 35-year-old worker, at the plant for about 11 months, stayed in the hospital for one day. Crown Services did not receive any citations because it did not oversee or direct work at the site.

OSHA’s investigation found that Polychem Services willfully failed to provide a suitable industrial vehicle for use in a hazardous location; did not train workers about hazardous workplace materials and lacked adequate drenching facilities for workers exposed to corrosive chemicals. The three willful violations remaining fell under OSHA’s respiratory protection standards.

A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirement, or with plain indifference to employee safety and health.

A repeated violation was for failing to train workers on required personal protective equipment. Polychem Services received a citation for this violation after a worker suffered second-degree burns at the facility in November 2010.

OSHA issues repeated violations if an employer previously faced the same or a similar violation of any standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years.

OSHA cited Polychem Services for four serious violations for failure to provide and require the use of appropriate body protection; train employees on how to use powered industrial vehicles; eliminate trips, slip and fall hazards; and provide running water and operating toilet facilities.

An OSHA violation is serious if death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard an employer knew or should have known exists.

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