OSHA Fines Paper Mill $91,000

Failure to protect contract workers from exposure to high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide gas at a Pennington, Ala., paper mill resulted in citations and fines for the Fort James Operating Co. Inc. by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Proposed penalties total $91,000.

On Jan. 16, contract employees were replacing a pipe rack in the chemical wash area of the plant. As they worked, sulfuric acid and wastewater released simultaneously into the sewer system and combined to form high levels of hydrogen sulfide gas. The gas escaped through a manhole cover, killing two workers and injuring eight others.

"Adding to the tragedy of these deaths and injuries is the fact that they could have been avoided," said Lana Graves, OSHA's Mobile area director. "Anticipating and preventing accidents is key to a safe workplace."

The company received a willful citation with a proposed penalty of $70,000 for failing to protect workers by installing engineering devices to control the addition of chemicals into the sewer system and to prevent accidental releases.

OSHA also issued three serious citations with proposed penalties totaling $21,000 for failing to tell contractors and their employees of the potential for hazardous chemicals in the area; provide chemical detection monitors; and install an alarm system to alert employees of a hazardous gas release.

OSHA issues a willful citation when the alleged violation is committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.

The company has 15 working days to contest the citations and proposed penalties.

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