On May 3, 2019, an explosion at AB Specialty Silicones plant in Waukegan, Ill. decimated the entire facility, shook homes and scattered debris for miles. It also killed four of the nine workers in the building at the time.
Although investigators never were able to determine the cause of the deadly blast, OSHA did discover 12 willful federal safety violations.
"Employers must employ hazard recognition to protect workers from harm, especially in high hazard industries," said Loren Sweatt, principal deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. "By ignoring safety and health requirements, this employer created an unsafe work environment with deadly consequences."
The four workers killed at the silicon chemical products manufacturer were 53-year-old Byron Biehn, the company's owner; 29-year-old Allen Stevens, owner and chemical operator; 57-year-old Jeff Cummings, production supervisor; and 24-year-old Daniel Nicklas, quality control chemist.
“We are shocked and heartbroken by the tragedy that occurred in our plant on May 3rd," General Manager Mac Penman posted on the company's website following the incident. "We are trying our best to support all of the members of our AB family as we attempt to process this terrible loss together.”
OSHA investigators found AB Specialty Silicones failed to ensure that electrical equipment and installations in the production area of the plant complied with OSHA electrical standards and were approved for hazardous locations. The company also used forklifts powered by liquid propane to transport volatile flammable liquids, and operated these forklifts in areas where employees handled and processed volatile flammable liquids and gases, creating the potential for ignition.
"An employer's adherence to safety and health standards, including the proper use of electrical equipment and forklifts when handling flammable liquids, is critical to preventing fire, explosions and other incidents that can seriously or fatally injure workers," said Nancy Hauter, OSHA acting regional administrator in Chicago.
AB Specialty Silicones faces $1,591,176 in penalties and has been placed the agency's Severe Violator Enforcement Program.