Seventeen workers were injured in July 2015 when an oven exploded at the Zodiac Cabin & Structures Support LLC facility in Newport, Wash. A nearly six-month investigation by Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) concluded that the explosion could have been prevented if Zodiac had used required safety interlocks and safeguards to ensure that the curing oven was used safely and as advised in a consulting engineer’s report.
L&I cited the employer for 17 willful violations – one for each injured worker – for knowingly and willfully exposing workers to the risk of serious injuries. The investigation found the company used defective equipment and didn’t ensure safe procedures were used when processing flammable materials in its industrial curing oven. Each violation carries the maximum penalty of $70,000. The total proposed penalty is more than $1.3 million.
“Had this explosion occurred during the day when many more workers were present, there could have been many more injuries and possibly even deaths,” said Anne Soiza, L&I assistant director of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “As it is, 17 people were injured and their lives put at risk from an incident that was highly predictable given the operating conditions.”
Along with the willful violations, L&I cited the company for 18 serious violations, all with the maximum penalty of $7,000 because of the high potential for death or permanent serious harm.
Due to the danger of an explosion, specific safety interlock controls and other safety procedures were supposed to be in place before the highly flammable resins were used in the 90-foot drying oven. Those controls were not in place, despite the fact that Zodiac had advice from its contracted consulting engineer detailing the steps needed to ensure safe operation prior to using the flammable uncured resins.
The investigation found that flammable resins had been run through the oven a number of times prior to the explosion. L&I also discovered that 11 days before the incident, the plant was evacuated due to flammable vapors that created a risk of explosion in the same operation.
Four of the serious violations cited were for not ensuring effective energy control procedures were in place to protect workers when they had to reach inside the curing oven for cleaning, service or maintenance.
The company was also cited for eight serious violations related to confined space because of employees entering the 90-foot oven to perform cleaning, service or maintenance. Working inside a confined space area such as the oven without safety precautions can be deadly to both workers and would-be rescuers. Confined space hazards can include suffocation, toxic atmospheres, entrapment and other dangerous conditions that are fully preventable.
An additional six violations were related to failing to prevent ignition of flammable vapors and protect workers from inhaling harmful vapors and chemicals, such as from solvent and formaldehyde.
As a result of the willful violations, Zodiac Cabin & Structures Support LLC has been identified as a severe violator and will be subject to follow-up inspections to determine if the conditions still exist in the future.
The employer has 15 days to appeal the citations. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.