OSHA found that as two employees attempted to relight a recovery boiler last August, an explosion occurred, forcibly scattering steam, hot black liquor, smelt and boiler parts throughout the area. The two workers and a third almost 50 feet away suffered severe thermal and chemical burns. Two of the victims later died of their injuries.
"This company has been cited in the recent past for willful violations, which are issued when there is a finding of intentional disregard for worker safety," said John Deifer, OSHA's Savannah area director. "In our inspection of this tragic accident, we found two willful, one repeat and 45 serious violations, exposing workers to hazards throughout the plant."
OSHA found that the company allowed employees to work at heights of up to 50 feet without providing fall protection, and required employees to stand on a conveyor belt to remove jammed logs without assuring that the machine was first locked out. These workers were exposed to being struck by moving logs, falling from the conveyor or being thrown into the chipper machine. The agency issued two willful citations with penalties of $55,000 each for these violations.
Another $17,500 fine accompanied a repeat citation for seven instances of accumulation of debris in various locations throughout the plant. The company had been cited for a similar violation in August 2000.
One hazard, directly related to the explosion, was among the 45 serious violations cited. The employer allowed workers to light the boiler using a continuous flow of fuel oil for at least several minutes, resulting in excess accumulation of explosive gases in the boiler, rather than following industry-recognized start-up procedures which call for closing an igniter shutoff valve if a flame is not established within 10 seconds. According to the National Fire Protection Association, waiting at least a minute before again trying to ignite the boiler prevents build-up of combustible gases.
A second serious citation concerned exposing employees to injury from falling concrete, brick and glass in areas of the plant that were experiencing structural deterioration. The falling debris also posed a potential threat of damaging lines carrying chlorine dioxide in these areas. Vapors and fumes from the lethal gas can be fatal.
Other serious violations included several incidents of unguarded machinery and equipment, lack of confined space entry precautions, lockout/tagout violations, missing handrails for fall protection, lack of personal protective equipment, blocked exits and numerous electrical hazards. Fines for the serious violations totaled $130,500.
Durango-Georgia, a subsidiary of Corporacion Durango of Mexico, employed approximately 900 workers at the St. Mary's paper mill. Since the time of the inspection, the company has closed the mill and sought bankruptcy protection. On Nov. 19, Chapter 11 status was granted.