OSHA cited Hunter''s Sales Inc. and proposed penalties totaling $22,000 following a fatality at the company''s Twin City, Ga., plant.
According to OSHA, a worker died of overexposure to hydrogen fluoride on May 12, while producing automobile cleaning products for Hunter''s Sales.
The production process involves mixing chemicals which are taken from a 55-gallon drum and moved, through a transfer pump, to a mixing vat to be blended before placed in smaller containers.
Roberto Sanchez, OSHA''s acting area director in Savannah, Ga., explained, "During the transfer operation, the connection between the pump and the supply hose broke away releasing hydrogen fluoride which sprayed the employee."
"Hydrogen fluoride is an extremely hazardous chemical," said Sanchez. "It causes severe burns which may not be immediately painful or visible. In fact, symptoms may be delayed for up to eight hours or longer. The fluoride ion readily penetrates the skin causing destruction of deep tissue and even bone. Severe skin, mouth, throat and stomach burns can result if the chemical is absorbed through the skin, breathed into the lungs or swallowed. Even in small amount, hydrogen fluoride may cause fatal injuries."
Because of the extreme hazards posed by this chemical, Sanchez said it is critical that employees working with it have adequate protective clothing and equipment to prevent skin contact and inhalation.
Equally important, before beginning any work with hydrogen fluoride, employees should have in place detailed first aid procedures and materials, including neutralizers, for treating exposed workers."
Following the inspection of this accident, OSHA fined the company $22,200 for 14 serious violations, including not having a hazard communication program to train employees to work safely with hydrogen fluoride; failing to require proper personal protective equipment, such as face shield and respirator when working with the hazardous chemical, and lack of adequate first aid supplies, such as neutralizer.
Additional serious citations dealt with absence of a lockout/tagout program to assure that machinery is rendered inoperable during cleaning and maintenance; improper electrical wiring, and lack of training in fork lift operation and the use of fire extinguishers.
"After being sprayed with hydrogen fluoride, the victim used the emergency shower and then returned to the work area where he was further exposed to the chemical by breathing the gas that was created by the spill," said Sanchez. "If this company had instituted a proper training program for hazardous substances and had made sure that employees wore protective equipment, this tragedy could have been avoided."
Hunter''s Sales, which employs four workers at the Twin City facility to produce and bottle automotive cleaning solutions, has 15 working days to contest OSHA''s citations and proposed penalties.
by Virginia Sutcliffe