Formosa Plastics Fined for Violations that Lead to Fatal Expolsion

OSHA has issued citations and proposed penalties to Formosa Plastics Corp. of Illiopolis, Ill., following its investigation into a massive, April 23 explosion that killed five workers, seriously injured three others and turned much of the facility into rubble.

OSHA issued citations for 45 alleged serious violations and three alleged willful violations of federal workplace safety and health regulations. Serious violations included allegations of a wide range of hazards associated with control of flammable liquid and ignition sources, insufficient worker training, electrical and lockout/tagout hazards, insufficient training on emergency response, organization, and equipping of fire brigade personnel, among others. The alleged willful violations charged the company with failing to maintain fire protection equipment, failing to replace or repair defective equipment used in highly hazardous chemical processes, and inadequate inspections and tests of equipment used in processes involving highly hazardous chemicals.

A Formosa spokesman said an internal investigation, which was based on interviews and documentation that survived the blast, points to human error as the cause of the blast and said the company plans to appeal the citations.

"It has shown that it was due to unfortunate and tragic human error," he said. "At this point, I cant talk about what it was."

The explosions, which could be heard from miles away, and subsequent fire caused a large public evacuation, cut power to local communities, and closed an interstate highway. Eighteen workers were on site when an explosion occurred while employees were reportedly mixing vinyl chloride and vinyl acetate.

At the time of the explosion, Carolyn W. Merritt, chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard is Investigation Board, noted, "This event had a devastating impact on workers and the public." In addition to OSHA investigators, a team from CSB investigated the incident to determine the circumstances and a report is expect from CSB next spring.

Formosa Plastic employed some 136 workers in Illiopolis prior to the blast and approximately 4,000 workers company-wide. Formosa purchased the Illiopolis facility in 2002 and had no previous OSHA inspections at that facility.

The company has had problems at other facilities, however. In December 2000, OSHA cited Formosa's Point Comfort, Texas, facility for nine safety and health violations totaling $114,000. The OSHA investigation was initiated May 25 when an employee was severely injured in a fire at the plant. OSHA's inspection of the facility resulted in one willful, six serious and two repeat violations.

In September 2002, OSHA proposed fines of $313,500 against Nan Ya Plastics Corp. America for exposing employees to hazards associated with improper electrical wiring, unguarded machines machines and floor holes, and failure to provide protection against the possible release of stored energy. The facility, located in Bachelor, La., manufactures flexible plastic film, employs about 270 workers at the site, and is privately owned by Formosa Plastics Group, which is headquartered in Taiwan. That inspection was triggered by an employee complaint.

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