Kaiser To Pay $513,000 for Explosion

Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp. will pay $513,000 in penalties to settle violations cited in the wake of an explosion at its Gramercy, La., plant last year.

Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp. will pay $513,000 in civil penalties under an agreement with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to settle violations cited in the wake of an explosion at its Gramercy, La., plant last year.

The company also agreed to adopt tough new safety standards that are in line with industry standards.

MSHA said the company''s new standards go beyond the agency''s requirements.

"American workers have a fundamental right to a safe and healthful workplace," said Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman. "This agreement goes a long way towards protecting workers at the Gramercy plant from similar accidents in the future."

The accident occurred on July 5, 1999, when an excessive pressure built up in several large processing tanks, causing an explosion that destroyed the plant and injured 29 workers.

Following its investigation of the accident, MSHA issued citations to Kaiser, proposing $533,000 in civil penalties for 21 violations of federal mine safety regulations.

"Kaiser agreed to pay $513,000 --- the largest civil penalty ever paid to MSHA in a non-fatality accident -- for a total of 18 violations," said MSHA Administrator Davitt McAteer.

The citations include 16 of 21 violations initially cited by MSHA investigators, and two more violations identified later.

Under the settlement, MSHA withdrew orders citing another five violations, modified further findings and agreed not to take further enforcement steps as a result of the explosion.

In addition to the $513,000 civil penalty being paid by Kaiser, two management officials have each agreed to pay $12,500 -- for a total of $25,000 in civil penalties -- for violations they had reason to know existed.

A digestion supervisor was cited for failing to ensure that the digestion pressure vessels were operating within design capacity and the digestion superintendent was cited for an inadequate safety examination of the area in the month before the explosion.

Under the settlement with MSHA, Kaiser has agreed to operate its Gramercy plant in accordance with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code.

Compliance with these industry consensus standards is not mandatory in Louisiana.

In addition, representative of Kaiser and the United Steel Workers of America, the union which represents labor at the plant, will perform a comprehensive safety and health audit of the Gramercy plant at least semi-annually, and report those results in writing to Kaiser management and the union.

For each safety or health problem identified in the audit, Kaiser must explain how and when the hazard will be abated.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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