OSHA Cites Two Maine Employers Following Explosion

July 16, 2004
A Jan. 9 explosion at an Orrington, Maine, trash-to-energy plant that cost a worker his left hand could have been prevented if proper procedures for protecting workers had been followed, says OSHA.

The agency issued citations and proposed penalties for alleged violations of safety standards to PSC Industrial Outsourcing North Atlantic Inc. of Portland, Maine, an industrial cleaning and maintenance service, and ESOCO Orrington Inc., which operates the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co.'s trash-to-energy plant in Orrington.

"Strong enforcement has been one of the keys to this Administration's success in reducing workplace injuries and illnesses," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. "The significant penalties of $122,000 proposed in this case demonstrate our commitment to protecting the health and safety of American workers."

ESOCO had hired PSC to remove slag from boiler tubes at the plant. In the deslagging process, a "shooter" places primed explosive charges in the boiler. After the "shooter" exits the boiler, the charges are then detonated from outside by a second worker. The accident occurred when one charge was detonated while the worker was still placing charges inside the boiler.

OSHA's inspection found that PSC did not require the shooter to leave the tank before each detonation, even though a PSC employee had been killed in a similar incident in Alma, Wisc., in Aug. 2001 and the company was aware that OSHA standards and industry practice require workers to leave the tank before detonation. As a result, OSHA has issued a willful citation to PSC, carrying the maximum fine of $70,000, for failing to remove the worker from inside the boiler prior to each detonation. A willful violation is defined by OSHA as one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the OSH Act and regulations.

PSC was also issued 11 serious citations, carrying $41,000 in fines, for allowing workers to make and store explosive components in the only path of egress and make up more primed charges than required; not protecting employees against noise during explosions; not providing barricades and a pre-blast warning signal; fall hazards; inadequate communication between employees working in and outside the boiler; and confined space hazards.

ESOCO Orrington was issued four serious citations, with fines of $11,000, for not ensuring barricades, warning signs and a pre-blast signal were in place; not conducting monthly inspections of self-contained breathing apparatus; and not having a written exposure control program for bloodborne pathogens. A serious violation is defined as a condition that exists where there is a substantial possibility that death or serious physical harm can result to an employee.

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