Investigators: Employer Could Have Prevented Fatal Dust Blast

Faulty Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and inadequate safety management appear to be root causes of the phenolic resin dust explosion that killed seven workers, injured 37 others and destroyed CTA Acoustics Inc.'s Corbin, Ky., plant.

The Feb. 20, 2003, catastrophe should not be called an "accident" because CTA and a chemical supplier knew of the resin dust hazards, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB). The board voted 3-0 to approve a final report that blamed the incident on faulty CTA safety systems as well as the design of the CTA facility by former owner CertainTeed.

Investigators found that CTA had been aware the dust could explode but did not communicate this hazard to workers or modify their operating procedures or the design of the plant.

In a written statement, CTA denied it knew of the explosive nature of phenolic resin powder. "We relied upon the supplier and their MSDS for information regarding the material," the statement says.

Investigators said the MSDS supplied by raw material supplier Borden Chemical indicated the resin dust was combustible, but did not explicitly warn of the dust's explosive properties. Borden also failed to inform its customers of an explosion and fire involving a similar Borden phenolic resin used at the Jahn Foundry in Springfield, Mass., in 1999 that killed three.

CSB found the incident occurred when a fire in a malfunctioning oven ignited a cloud of phenolic resin dust that was generated during the cleaning of a production line.

The CSB report also found:

  • Kentucky's state plan OSHA program inspected CTA several times but did not cite the combustible dust hazard.
  • Numerous inspections by insurance companies in an 8-year period prior to the event failed to identify phenolic resin dust as an explosive hazard.
  • The Kentucky fire marshal's office, which has responsibility to enforce fire safety standards, does not routinely inspect industrial facilities, and had never inspected the 32-year-old CTA plant.

"What this report reveals are many missed opportunities to prevent this explosion," commented CSB Chairman Carolyn Merritt. "The company, the supplier, state regulators and private insurers all overlooked the deadly hazard posed by combustible dust."

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