OSHA has issued 11 serious citations and $43,400 in fines after an August 2013 fire at the aptly named Inferno Wood Pellet Inc. factory in East Providence, R.I.
A combustible-dust explosion and fire at the plant injured one worker and partially destroyed the building. The ignition of wood dust in the plant's production room migrated to a retention bin, resulting in an explosion that spread through the building, according to OSHA.
"While no one was killed, the potential for death and serious injury was real, present and preventable,” said Patrick Griffin, OSHA's area director for Rhode Island. “The lack of safeguards allowed the initial fire and explosion to occur and spread in a chain reaction to other equipment and through the plant. If this employer had adhered to applicable OSHA and National Fire Protection Association standards, that would have helped prevent the fire and explosion from occurring and spreading."
In an investigation, OSHA’s Providence Area Office found that plant workers were exposed to fire hazards due to inadequate or nonexistent preventive and protective measures in the wood-pellet processing system and its equipment.
OSHA has cited Inferno for 11 serious violations of workplace safety standards and has proposed $43,400 in fines.
Among the agency’s findings:
- The retention bin lacked spark detection, explosion suppression, fire/explosion isolation and explosion venting devices.
- Conveyor systems carrying combustible wood products lacked spark detection, fire suppression and/or fire isolation devices.
- Dust collection systems and dust segregation barriers were not maintained to minimize fire sources.
- An opening in the fire wall between the plant's production room and chip room allowed a fireball to enter the chip room and spread the fire.
Additional alleged fire hazards included the accumulation of combustible wood dust on various locations and surfaces within the plant; an incomplete and inadequate fire prevention plan; and lack of dust-tight electrical equipment where combustible wood dust accumulated, according to OSHA.
The agency also cited the company for an incomplete respiratory protection program; lack of noise monitoring; inadequate chemical hazard communication and training; and lack of procedures and training to ensure that all equipment was properly deenergized to prevent unintended activation.
"Combustible wood dust is a byproduct of the manufacturing process, and it is the employer's responsibility to ensure that proper and effective safeguards are in place and in use at all times, so that incidents like this fire and explosion do not occur," said Griffin.
Inferno has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply with or contest OSHA’s findings.