OSHA: Unchecked Hazards Lead to Fatal Explosion in Mississippi

OSHA says five workers who died of burns following a May 16 explosion at a Vicksburg, Miss., rubber fabricating plant didn't have to suffer such painful deaths..

The agency cited Rouse Polymerics International Inc. for safety hazards that led to the fatal explosion and proprosed fines totaling $210,600.

OSHA's inspection of the rubber fabricating plant was triggered by the explosion, which injured 11 workers, five of whom later died of severe burns. The explosion occurred because highly combustible rubber dust was allowed to accumulate and ignited.

Following the inspection, OSHA cited the company for two willful and 22 serious safety violations. The willful citations addressed the company's failure to keep the plant free from hazardous accumulation of rubber dust and to use electrical equipment specifically approved for work areas where high fire risk is present.

"The combination of a combustible dust heated to its ignition temperature in the presence of an oxygen-enriched environment is an obvious indicator for potential hazards," said Clyde Payne, OSHA's Jackson, Miss., area director. "This employer had been previously cited for housekeeping and electrical violations, both of which contributed to the explosion. Yet, management continued to expose workers to both hazards."

The serious violations issued by OSHA included employing a forklift without a seat belt; exposing workers to fire and explosion hazards without proper protection systems in place; lack of guardrails; allowing employees to work from an aerial lift without proper protective equipment; gears left unguarded; electrical hazards and training deficiencies.

Rouse Polymerics International employs a series of "shredding" and "cracking" operations to vulcanize rubber material for use by major tire manufacturers, asphalt formulators and other rubber manufacturers.

The company has 15 working days to contest OSHA's citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, which once again has a quorum and is able to hear cases, or pay the penalty.

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