OSHA cited Mead Coated Board Inc. and proposed penalties totaling $72,650 for safety violations at the company''s Cottonton, Ala., plant.
Inspection of the paper manufacturer began after an accidental release of hazardous hydrogen sulfide gas caused evacuation of the mill and sent six employees to the hospital. None were seriously injured.
OSHA cited the company for one willful violation with a $55,000 proposed penalty because Mead did not have a written lockout procedure for shutting down, during maintenance, tanks containing hazardous chemicals.
The company failed to meet its own requirement that each piece of equipment have a specific, written lockout process.
The paper industry routinely uses lockout procedures to ensure that machinery remains inoperable during maintenance and repair.
In addition to being cited for not having specific written lockout checklists, Mead received a repeat citation with a penalty of $10,000 for failure to perform the lockout procedures that would have isolated and de-energized the tanks while they were undergoing maintenance.
The citation was categorized as repeat because the company had been previously cited for a substantially similar hazard.
"The gas leak occurred in the chemical recovery tank farm, an area of the mill where by-products of the paper manufacturing process are stored," said Lana Graves, OSHA''s Mobile area director.
Graves explained that acidic brine from one storage tank mixed with black liquor from another tank generating hydrogen sulfide.
"The hazardous vapor was released into the air because the tanks had not been properly ''locked out'' prior to an outside contractor commencing work on them."
Graves added, "We issued a willful citation against Mead because the company''s failure to act showed blatant disregard for OSHA lockout standards, particularly since outside contractors had, on several occasions, noted the absence of specific lockout procedures for certain equipment," said Graves.
Five serious citations accounted for the remaining $7,650 in proposed penalties. These included:
- deficiencies in the company''s emergency response plan;
- failure to identify and evaluate respiratory hazards, like hydrogen sulfide;
- failure to provide respirators for employees working where hazardous vapors could be generated;
- not conducting annual audits of the lockout program, and
- failing to inform outside contractors about hazardous chemicals in their work area.
Mead Coated Board has 15 working days to contest OSHA''s citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
by Virginia Sutcliffe