MSHA Issues 21 Citations Against Aluminum Plant

Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp., received 21 citations for an explosion that injured 29 employees last July.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued 21 citation Friday for safety violations to Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp., for an explosion at its plant in Gramercy, La.

Twenty-nine employees were injured in the blast on July 5, 1999.

Seven of the 21 citations were issued for actions that directly caused or contributed to the blast, while 14 were for associated violations.

The explosion occurred in the digestion unit, which is a production area of the plant.

Violations included inoperative pressure relief systems, blocked pressure relief piping, routine operation of pressure vessels beyond their design capacity, inadequate safety training, and lack of proper equipment.

"The issuance of citations is a standard part of MSHA's enforcement process. Hopefully, it will prevent similar accidents in the future," said Davitt McAteer, assistant labor secretary for MSHA.

MSHA said the citations also allege that Kaiser failed to examine for -- and promptly initiate appropriate actions to correct -- conditions that posed hazards for the miners.

Representatives from the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) said they were supportive of the citations issued against Kaiser Aluminum.

"MSHA's citations prove what we've said all along," said Stanley Folse, safety and health chairman for USWA Local Union 5702. "Kaiser ran this plant in a dangerous and irresponsible way, with badly trained replacement workers, after locking out its experienced workforce."

USWA members at Kaiser went on strike Sept. 30, 1998. Workers offered to return to work while continuing to negotiate, but the company refused. The workers have been locked out since Jan. 14, 1999.

"Kaiser deserves the most severe penalties allow by law," said David Foster, director of the USWA's district 11 and chair of the union's Kaiser negotiating committee.

MSHA said that Kaiser was also cited for failure to provide its employees with personal protective clothing and adequate training, as well as for impeding MSHA's investigation.

In response, Kaiser said it strongly disagrees with the substance of the citations and plans to challenge them in court if necessary.

In addition, the company said it continues to await a ruling from the United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on whether MSHA has jurisdiction over a non-mining operation.

In a statement the company said, "it was particularly disappointed in the MSHA action because it believes the agency has misconstrued information that the company voluntarily provided to it."

Kaiser also believes "MSHA has acted prematurely and improperly, in part because it ignored repeated company offers for updated and comprehensive technical briefings on the incident."

MSHA's proposed penalties are expected to be released later, as will the agency's investigation report on the July 5 explosion.

Some of the violations could also be referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.

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