Tonawanda Coke Blast ‘Preventable’

Monday, August 4, 2014 @ 05:08 PM gHale

Tonawanda Coke Corp. and Kirchner LLC face $161,100 in fines following a Jan. 31, explosion that collapsed brick walls, damaged electrical equipment and injured two permanent plant employees and one temporary employee, said officials at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

An overpressured coke oven manifold, released coke oven gas in an enclosed area where it ignited and caused the explosion. The flare stack, used to burn off excess coke oven gas, failed. OSHA found this exposed Tonawanda Coke employees to asphyxiation from the release of gas, and explosion and fire hazards. OSHA said the company failed to inspect and maintain safety systems properly to ensure their effectiveness.

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“Had this company taken proper precautions and ensured that safety systems were working, this explosion would not have occurred. Equally disturbing, however, are the additional, preventable hazards the employer allowed at the plant,” said Michael Scime, OSHA’s area director in Buffalo. “These conditions exposed workers to potential amputations, falls, crushing injuries, injury by unexpectedly activated machinery and an inability to exit the workplace swiftly if fire, explosions or other emergencies arose.”

The additional hazards included missing guardrails; obstructed emergency exit routes and a defective exit door; failure to lockout machines’ power sources before performing maintenance; use of uninspected cranes, lifting ropes and unguarded saws; improperly stored oxygen cylinders; and failure to determine employees’ levels of exposure to the hazardous substance hexavalent chromium and training them about its hazards.

These conditions resulted in the issuance of 15 serious violations with $90,100 in fines. OSHA issues serious citations when death or serious physical harm could result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known.

The company received two repeat violations, with $70,000 in fines, for recurring hazards, failing to train employees in lockout procedures and not certifying inspections of lockout procedures. OSHA had cited Tonawanda Coke for similar hazards in October 2010. The company also received a $1,000 fine for failing to provide voltage markings on electrical equipment.

Tonawanda Coke produces foundry coke, a coal byproduct. Kirchner LLC is a company that provides temporary workers.

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