Iron Dust Plant Hit with 11 Fire Violations

Friday, January 20, 2012 @ 04:01 PM gHale

Inspectors found 11 fire code violations this month at the Hoeganaes iron powder manufacturing plant in Gallatin, TN, where five workers died last year in three separate fires.

One of the violations involved a small amount of combustible dust accumulation under a conveyor system. The buildup of dust in the plant was a part of the deadly accidents, and officials with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board urged better practices for controlling the powder.

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“If it was in a jug, it was probably a gallon’s worth,” Gallatin Fire Inspector Ben Harris said of the iron powder he found.

Other findings included inadequate emergency lighting, a fire extinguisher obscured from view in the shipping area, missing covers on at least two electrical junction boxes, obstructed or not clearly marked exits and compressed gas cylinders not secured properly. The inspectors also reported the fire alarm system and some exit doors did not meet fire code standards for industrial facilities.

The report recommended the company either repair or replace the doors to satisfy code requirements.

Gallatin Senior Fire Inspector Mark Parrish characterized the violations as semi-serious. “They’re not minor, but they’re not major,” he said. “They are medium.”

The combustible dust violation was notable because the powder caused two flash fires last year that killed two employees and injured a third. Dust also played a role in the aftermath of a hydrogen gas explosion that killed three workers and injured two others in May, state and federal investigators said.

One electrical junction box was missing a cover, but Parrish said the wires were not suffering from complete exposure because they were “covered with insulation like they’re supposed to be.”

A cover letter included with the inspection report said the company has made improvements since the fire department’s last inspection several months ago.

“Excess product that was on the floor, machinery and beams has been cleaned up,” the report said, although the May 12 inspection conducted by Parrish had not mentioned combustible dust accumulations.

Parrish said he saw dust in the facility at that time but did not include it as a violation in his report.

“It was an oversight on my part,” he said Wednesday.

The Gallatin fire inspectors said the facility had vastly improved its safety and cleanup procedures.

“They’re making good progress,” Parrish said.

The inspection report noted contractors working at the plant need training according to Hoeganaes safety standards.

“They need to follow all the life safety procedures that are in place, clean up after they have completed a job and notify proper personnel that a job has been completed,” the report said.

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